Reading Wrap-Up: January-June 2017

I wanted to share what I’ve been reading, since I’ve read a lot of great books so far this year. I’ll post another reading wrap-up at the end of the year (I had orginally intended to just make one post at the end of the year, but I’ve read so much already that I thought I’d go ahead and post this now to avoid an extremely long post in December). These books are in the order I read them.

The Start Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi This book has rich writing and imagery; it was enjoyable to read, but I think I’ll need to re-read it to fully take everything in. A companion book comes out at the end of March, and I am very excited.
Not Otherwise Specified by Hanna Moskowitz I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish this book, because I was so entranced by the story and characters.
Pointe by Brady Colbert I picked up this book because the main character takes ballet classes, and that’s enough to pique my interest in any book. This book is about so much more than ballet, so don’t let that deter you if dance isn’t your thing. I really enjoyed this book. By the end of it, I was so proud of the main character that I may or may not have cried. (I did, I totally cried, but because I was just so gosh darn proud of the character.)
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria I don’t know if I would have picked up this book if I hadn’t heard so much about it, and I am so glad that I did pick it up. I love the strong friendship between the two main characters, and the world pulled me in.
The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter I picked up this book because it deals with mental health issues, and the ocean plays a pretty prominent role; both also play heavily in the novella length fairy tale retelling I’m working on. The word “queer” was used to mean strange, which didn’t sit right with me. I did enjoy some parts of the book though.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore I read half of this in one afternoon while snuggling my cat, and it was a wonderful experience. The world is so rich and beautiful and the characters are relatable and great.
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace This is a beautiful collection of poetry that I read in its entirety in one afternoon. While some of the poems are quite heavy and sad, I came out of the book with a sense of hope and motivation to love myself more.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas I was very excited about this book from the first moment I heard about it, and it did not disappoint. There is quite a lot of emotional heaviness in this book, but that’s to be expected from a book about a teen who sees her friend get shot by a cop. The writing is wonderful, and the topic is very important, so I highly suggest this book.
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst The summary drew me in, but sadly I wasn’t as drawn into the story as I anticipated. I did enjoy aspects of the story though.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson This was a re-read for me; I first read it in high school, and I’ve returned to it quite a few times since then. The story and the main character’s growth never fail to move me.
Merrow by Ananda Braton-Smith I picked this book up without knowing much about it, and I am so glad I did. The voice is strong, and the story is both whimsical and serious.
The Gauntlet by Karuna Raizi I don’t tend to read a lot of middle grade books, but I am so glad I read this one. The characters are great, the story is engaging, and the book was a very enjoyable read.
The Library by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small This picture book is an adorable story, written in rhyme, about a woman who collects so many books that she decides to open a public library. I very much enjoyed this book, and could relate to the main character quite a lot.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden I started this book in February or March, read most of it, but then set it down when I got distracted by other books I was more interested in reading. I wasn’t totally sure I was going to finish this book, but on a weekend at the beginning of May I picked it up again to see if it grabbed my attention more than it had earlier in the year. And it did! I am extremely glad I finished this book; the last fourth of the book was enchanting.
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan Another middle grade book! I enjoyed this book a lot; so much that I read the entire book in a day. The main character, Amina, is relatable. The plot and characters are wonderful, and it’s great to see such a diverse cast.
The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember Any retelling of The Little Mermaid is going to catch my attention. This was an enjoyable read, and I very much like some of the ways it twists the original story. There is a nonbinary character, which would have been wonderful representation for nonbinary readers; except the character is a trickster villain, which upset nonbinary readers, understandably.
Children of the Sea (volumes 1-5) by Daisuke Igarashi I haven’t read a lot of manga, but this one caught my attention when I was browsing at the library one day because there are children of the sea in one of my stories. The story was much heavier than I expected, but I enjoyed it.
Adulthood is a Myth and Big Mushy Lump by Sarah Andersen These two books by Sarah Anderson are collections of short comics about various aspects of the author’s life. Both are enjoyable reads, and I found quite a few of the comics to be very relatable.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton I enjoyed this book, for the most part. There’s a lot of beautiful magical realism and imagery that made reading the book feel dreamlike at times. The story is set in Seattle, my hometown, and it was fun to get the references to different parts of the city. I should warn that there is a rape scene that was quite hard to read, so if reading about that is something you’d prefer to avoid, this book isn’t for you.
Rose Sees Red by Cecil Castellucci I was drawn to this book because the summary promised a friendship between two ballet dancers; the book didn’t disappoint in that area, and I could relate to the main character’s anxious nature.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell This was another re-read. Something about this story is so cozy to me, which is why I keep returning to it.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon This was a fun and enjoyable read. I could relate to both of the main characters in one way or another.

LGBTQIAP+ Fairy Tales Recommendations

Since it’s LGBTQIAP+ Pride Month, I thought I’d put together a list of fairy tales with LGBTQIAP+ characters. Here are five:

  1. Unburied Fables is an anthology that has characters with many different sexualities and identities.
  2. When the Moon Was Ours is a novel that is beautifully written and features a trans character.
  3. The Prince and the Swan is a webcomic that is a gay retelling of Swan Lake.
  4. Princess Princess Ever After is a super cute comic about two princesses finding their happily ever after together.
  5. Valor is an anthology of fairy tale comics. Not all of the stories include LGBTQIAP+ characters, but some do.

If there are any LGBTQIAP+ fairy tales that you think I should be aware of, please do let me know!

Review: Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess

Over the weekend I saw Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess which was playing as part of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). I meant to get this review up Saturday afternoon/evening so that I could encourage Seattle readers to see the film Sunday afternoon, the only other time it is playing. But visiting family left me with limited time and energy to get this review written and posted.

Ivan Tsarevitch et la Princess Changante is a French film written by Michele Ocelot. It consists of four short stories, tied together by the overarching story of a young boy and girl putting on shows of these stories in a dilapidated theater, helped by an old theater technician. Summaries of the four stories, quoted from the SIFF website, are below.

A young girl who lives in a monster-fearing underground community gains the courage to face her fears and challenge her society in “The Mistress of the Monsters.” A poor Persian boy becomes apprentice to a powerful enchanter, only to learn of his dastardly ulterior motives in “The Sorcerer’s Pupil.” A put-upon ward on a pirate ship outsmarts his captain during a stop in India in “The Ship’s Boy and His Cat.” And the son of a dying Russian tsar races against time to find a cursed princess in “Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess.”

“The Mistress of the Monsters” is my favorite. A few lines of dialogue that are repeated throughout the story have stuck with me. The girl is scared to face the monsters and leave behind the only world she has known and says to the rat who is helping her, “But I’m scared.” The rat’s response: “Okay. Go on.” Characters pushing forward and continuing to “go on” even when they’re scared or otherwise feel like they can’t is one of my favorite narrative themes. My only complaint about this story is that the girl is faced with a love interest moments after leaving her underground home. The audience doesn’t much of anything happen between the girl and her prince, and I think the story could have done without that small thread.

“The Sorcerer’s Pupil” is my least favorite. The animation of magic throughout this story is fun. But overall, this story just didn’t do as much for me as the others did.

“The Ship’s Boy and His Cat” is my second favorite. It’s a simple story, but a good one. And one of the main characters is an adorable cat, which is a surefire way to get me excited about a story.

“Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess” is the most intricate of the stories, both in terms of story and animation. It’s a beautiful finale to the film. The themes of greed and self-centeredness are very timely.

The animation style of this film is absolutely stunning. Silhouetted characters and die-cut sets made the animation just as enchanting as the stories. I wish I spoke better French; reading the subtitles took away from the time I could focus on the beautiful animation.

I very much enjoyed this film, and I hope it will be easily available for me to rewatch.

 

 

On Retelling Fairy Tales

I am by no means an expert in retelling fairy tales, but as I’ve spent close to three years working on various fairy tale retellings, I think I do have a bit of authority on the matter. Fairy tales, since their inception are told and retold and retold again, different each time it is told. I love fairy tale retellings, even the ones I don’t particularly enjoy. Each retelling can tell us quite a bit about the teller, and I find that fascinating.

There’s a lot I could talk about on the subject of fairy tale retellings; in this post I’m going to focus on my retelling process. It is perhaps better to say that some of my stories are inspired by fairy tales, rather than retellings, as my plots are sometimes unrecognizable from the original, save for a few themes.

My process isn’t the same every time I write something inspired by a fairy tale, but it usually follows a somewhat similar trajectory. First I identify which fairy tale I want to work with. Sometimes I know I want to weave two or more fairy tales together from the beginning, and sometimes I start with just one. I read the fairy tale and take note of any themes, characters, settings, or plot points I want to include in my story. When I have finished reading the story I take my notes and arrange them into the beginnings of an outline. Sometimes this outline is very sparse, and sometimes the plot is more complete. I fill in any holes; sometimes I look to another fairy tale (or two) to help me with this, but sometimes I don’t. When I feel like I have enough of an outline, I start writing. Sometimes, as I write, I’ll come up with ideas for other fairy tale themes/characters/settings/plot points I can include. During the writing process, aspects often shift around, get added, or get cut. Sometimes I start writing with a very vague idea, but I tend to do better when I have more of an idea of where I want the story to go. Depending on the length of the story, the need for an outline differs. The longer the story, the bigger the need for an outline.

And that’s about it! If anyone is interested in posts on other aspects of fairy tales or writing, let me know!

Review: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Note: This review contains spoilers. If you have not seen the film yet, and would like to remain unknowing about how it is different from the animated film, it is probably best to stop reading right now.

I went to see Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast yesterday. I went in the middle of the day, and there were only six or so people in the theater. After the film was over I sat myself down in a nearby coffee shop and made some very messy notes about my thoughts and reactions. This blog post is based on those notes, expanded into paragraphs and fleshed out a bit. These thoughts are kind of all over the place and not at all in chronological order, because I’m still processing. I cleaned up/condensed/moved around some of my notes to make my thoughts more coherent.

I have to admit that I teared up when Belle sang “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.” This line always gets me because I want her to have her adventure so badly, and I hate that she feels stuck. I was not, however, expecting it to actually make my eyes water with emotion. So. I’ve heard complaints about this shot being very similar to the beginning of The Sound of Music. I totally see the connection, but for some reason I don’t have a huge problem with it.

“Be Our Guest” was a huge disappointment. Usually this musical number fills me with joy and makes me want to get up and dance with full live-theater-show-on-Broadway enthusiasm. But not this time. I was not impressed with the singing, or this scene in general, which is why I was so disappointed. I was a bit upset when Cogsworth joined in the fun, because it seemed very out of character.

“Be Our Guest” always makes me question how many members of the castle staff there were to be caught up in the curse. Because there are a lot of animate plates and cups and silverware, but none of them have faces. If I’m remembering correctly, there were some references to other movies in the visuals of this scene, and they annoyed me, because I feel like this movie should have stood on its own more. I know this makes me hypocritical, because earlier I said I didn’t have a problem with the The Sound of Music reference, but for some reason the references here annoyed me when the The Sound of Music reference didn’t.

In general, I really appreciate all of the extra backstory we were given of Belle and her parents, as well as the backstory we’re give of the Beast and his parents. While audience members of the animated film assumed that the missing parents were dead, it was nice to have it acknowledged in this version, and that the characters were affected by the deaths. And seeing the curse be put in place in the prologue was great too. I much prefer this to the animated version.

Speaking of the curse; I have some thoughts on the Enchantress. I really like that the Enchantress sticks around after the prologue. I have more sympathy for her, and I understand her and her motivations a bit more. But, I would still love to know more about her and why she decided to curse the Beast. I get that she wanted to teach the Beast a lesson since he was so selfish and unkind, but it still seems extreme to pull the castle staff into it by curing them too, as well as erasing memories from the villagers. I have to commend the actress who played The Enchantress/Agatha; her performance was very powerful, and she didn’t even have any lines.

So, the thing I was most riled up about before seeing the film: LeFou being gay. I was upset when they announced this, because if they really wanted to have positive representation, they should have had Cogsworth be gay, and Lumière be bi. LeFou’s character wasn’t a train wreck in the way I anticipated, and he did change sides at the end. And I get that standing up to Gaston could have brought serious repercussions for LeFou. I get why he was scared to stand up to Gaston. But I really would have loved to see him admit that Gaston left Maurice for dead. The villagers in the tavern would have intervened if Gaston lashed out in that moment.

And perhaps the villagers would have been slower to follow Gaston to the castle. I also understand that LeFou was pining after Gaston, which contributed to why he didn’t stand up to him sooner. Watching LeFou pine after Gaston was utterly painful. Also, the “exclusively gay” moment was so quick that I almost missed it. It was great to see LeFou dancing with another man, Stanley, but again it was very quick and I think it was made out to be a bigger deal than it actually was.

Speaking of Stanley. During the fight at the castle Madame Gardrobe dressed up the three guys in dresses. Two of them run off screaming because they found wearing dresses embarrassing, but Stanley smiles straight to camera with a look on his face that implies he enjoys wearing a dress and makeup. I can’t tell if this was done for laughs, or if it had good intentions behind it. No one in the theater when I saw the film laughed during this part, but one person did clap excitedly. There were only about six of us in the theater though, so I don’t know what sort of reactions would have happened if there were more people.

Also, it kind of bugs me that the castle staff is named after what their cursed forms are. They had lives before the curse and “Chip” and “Madame Gardrobe” and “Lumière” and “Cogsworth” are all somewhat strange names, and oh so very convenient to their cursed forms.

Some of the singing was disappointing. As mentioned above, I was not impressed with “Be Our Guest.” The music/singing during the prologue didn’t sound super great to me either. This could have partly been because I felt like the prologue was too fast paced. I get that they wanted to move on to the main part of the story, but they could have slowed it down just a bit, and I think I would have enjoyed it more. Emma Watson’s singing was better than I expected it would be, which I’m happy about, because if Belle’s singing wasn’t pleasant it would have been a huge bummer. The “Gaston” song was also a bit of a let down. At some points, when the entire tavern was singing there were too many voices and not enough enunciation, and it was hard to understand what was being sung.

The library was super impressive, but not as impressive as the animated one. Belle’s excitement at all of the books was very cute. The way she sort of giggled excitedly and covered her mouth when the Beast turned his back was so great. This scene was especially touching because in the village she only had access to like six books.

In this version Gaston was even more despicable than he was in the animated version. It’s clear that being in a war had an affected him in some way, and I don’t want to diminish the pain being at war can cause people, and the effects it has on people. The movie suggests that Gaston actively enjoyed being at war, that he enjoyed the fighting and killing. He clearly has anger issues, which when combined with his past in a war setting, makes me think that PTSD could come into play. But I do get the impression that Gaston’s anger and taste for violence preceded his time at war. And, at any rate, PTSD may explain Gaston’s anger and certain actions, but it does not excuse anything. Gaston left Maurice for dead, tied to a tree in the woods that house vicious wolves. He continued to pursue Belle after she turned him down. His mistreated LeFou. Any ridiculous aspects of Gaston from the animated version were stripped away here, and I hate Gaston so much more in this version. And I hated him A LOT in the animated film.

In the lead up to the release of the film, Belle’s yellow dress got a lot of negative reactions. And while I never hated the dress like some people did, I never loved it either. But it moved really nicely when she danced, and that’s the most important thing to me.

When I look at my notes about the “Tale As Old As Time” ballroom scene, all it says is “damn, dance scenes always get me.” You would be hard pressed to find a scene that takes place in a ballroom with dancing and pretty clothes that I don’t like. However, I was upset with how much screen time was dedicated to showing off the pretty ballroom. Yes, it’s a pretty ballroom, but I think that the focus should have stayed on Belle and the Beast.

I really like that the village was called “Villeneuve.” It’s a nice little nod to the original story’s author. (Unlike with Frozen, where they took original author’s name and gave it to the asshole. I only bring this up to say that I was pleasantly surprised, both that they gave a nod to the original Beauty and the Beast author (whom most people forget about/are unaware of) and that the nod was a nice one. I mean yes, the villagers in said town aren’t the nicest people to Belle and Maurice, but that’s not the village’s fault.)

I enjoyed the new songs. “Evermore,” the song Beast sang stands out most to me. I really like that the Beast has a song to sing that is all his own, because it gives him much depth. It’s definitely a different vibe than the song the Beast sings in the Broadway musical; both are good songs, but I get why they couldn’t include both, as each song characterized the Beast in a slightly different way. I also really enjoyed “How Does a Moment Last Forever.” It’s a really bittersweet moment, and Kevin Kline performed it very well. “Days in the Sun” is also nice, though my least favorite of the new songs.

I really enjoyed how Maurice’s character is more fleshed out. It’s much more clear that he cares about Belle a lot, and that he wants to take care of her and protect her. The father-daughter relationship was so much stronger in this version.

The final scene was enjoyable for the most part. Belle’s dress was very pretty. And there was dancing, so you know I enjoyed it. But. Belle’s line of “How would you feel about growing a beard?” made me cringe. It’s hard for me to put my finger on why, exactly, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the fact that the whole movie (at least how I view it) operates on the fact that Belle breaks the curse because she loves the Beast for his personality, not his looks. So to have physical appearance brought into it like that just didn’t sit right with me.

I really like the conversations between Belle and the Beast that were added to this version. They illustrated the connection between them, and made it much more believable that Belle fell in love with beast. Although I suppose the fact that the Beast’s face is much more human-like than it was in the animated version helps with this too.

The look/aesthetic of the movie was very pretty and nice to look at. And that’s all I really have to say about that.

In the final scene and the credits I finally felt the emotional connection I was waiting for the entire movie. I’m sure nostalgia played a huge part in this. I went into the theater with such a low bar that the movie did rise above it, but only because of certain parts/aspects I did enjoy (and nostalgia). Overall the movie was just “meh” for me; some parts I loved, some parts I hated, but it didn’t enchant me.

Thoughts on The Little Mermaid

“The Little Mermaid” is perhaps my favorite fairy tale; it was the initial jumping off point for my college capstone, and if I had to cite an all-time favorite fairy tale, it would be this one.

Published in 1837 by Hans Christian Andersen, this story follows a little mermaid on her quest to obtain an immortal soul. In the world of this story, merfolk do not have souls. Merfolk can live for three-hundred years, but when they die their body turns into sea foam and they cease to exist. Humans, on the other hand, live much shorter lives, but when they die, their soul continues on in the afterlife. The little mermaid, when she finds out this piece of information, longs for an immortal soul just as much as she longs for the love of the prince, if not more.

The sea witch’s conditions are deterring, but the little mermaid takes them anyway. Drinking the potion that will transform her tail into legs will hurt, and every step on those legs will feel as if knives are boring into the soles of her feet. To get a soul, the little mermaid must marry the prince, but if the prince marries someone else the little mermaid will die a mermaid’s death and turn into sea foam and cease to exist. And then there’s the payment: the little mermaid must give up her tongue, and therefore her ability to speak.

The prince does marry someone else. He marries the princess from a neighboring kingdom, who he believes is the woman who saved him. The night after the wedding the little mermaid prepares for her quickly approaching death when she is given a second chance: if she wants to live all she has to do is stab the prince, let his blood drip onto her feet, and her legs will transform back into her mermaid tail. The little mermaid almost does this, but when she’s standing over the sleeping prince, she can’t make herself hurt him.

So she throws herself into the sea, prepared to die. But she doesn’t. Instead, she becomes a daughter of the air, a spirit who can gain access to heaven after doing good deeds for humans for three-hundred years. She gets her soul after all. The little mermaid gets her happily ever after. It may not be the happily ever after most readers hope for, but I find it much preferred to a happily ever after in which the little mermaid marries the prince.

Because the prince doesn’t treat the little mermaid very well. He calls her his “my silent child” and the bed he gives her is a pillow outside his door. Because the little mermaid cannot speak, the prince is able to assume what she is thinking, and he is often wrong. All of this leads me to dislike the prince much more than I dislike any other character. Even the sea witch tries to tell the little mermaid that transforming into a human is a bad idea. I like that this story has no overt antagonist.

Hans Christian Andersen often aspects of his own life and wrote them into his fairy tales. Andersen was attracted to both men and women, and some scholars argue that “The Little Mermaid” was written in response to Edvard Collin, a man Andersen was attracted to, getting engaged to a women. Different scholars say different things about the exact relationship between Andersen and Collin, but it remains very plausible that Anderson was indeed heartbroken by Collin.

“The Little Mermaid” is a beautiful story that I thoroughly enjoy revisiting.

The full text of the “The Little Mermaid,” for those interested in reading it, can be found here.

Thoughts on The Snow Queen

“The Snow Queen” is one of my favorite fairy tales. It’s one of the stories I used as inspiration for my thesis in college (a story which has now turned into a novella I’m still tinkering with). It’s not as well-known as some other fairy tales, which is a shame, because it’s a beautiful story.

The story of “The Snow Queen,” told simply, is the story of a girl named Gerda who goes on a journey to find and save her best friend, Kai (or Kay, depending on whih translation you look at), who has been put under a spell by shards of a magic mirror and kidnapped by the Snow Queen. Along the way she encounters: an old lady who wants to keep Gerda for her own (and succeeds for a time); some talking crows; a kind princess and prince; a group of traveling thieves, including a little girl who takes a strange interest in Gerda; a reindeer; and two women who give Gerda shelter. With the help of those she meets along the way, some luck, and her own persistence, Gerda is able to find Kai, break the spell on him, and take him home.

(Anyone interested in reading the full text can do so online here.)

The most well-known retelling of “The Snow Queen” is Disney’s Frozen. The plot and cast of characters from Frozen deviate widely from “The Snow Queen;” a lovable reindeer and platonic love saving the day are the two biggest similarities. And while Disney is allowed to retell fairy tales how they’d like, I did have some frustrated when I went into Frozen expecting a story I love and hold dear, and was presented with something completely different instead.

There are many things I like about “The Snow Queen.”

There is no romance. Gerda and Kai’s relationship is completely platonic, they love each other like siblings. While romance is not at the center of every fairy tale, it was certainly a big player in the fairy tales I grew up on, so reading “The Snow Queen” for the first time was like a breath of fresh air.

It’s a story about a girl saving a boy. And yes, there are other stories, other fairy tales, that involve a girl saving a boy. But as with the romance, I grew up exposed to more stories about males saving females than the other way around.

I think perhaps my favorite part of “The Snow Queen” is that it’s a story about a girl who doesn’t know how strong she is. Gerda doesn’t know she’s going to be able to find and save Kai, but she sets out anyway. Gerda is weak in some moments; when Kai teases her she cries. But she is strong too. When Kai is kidnapped and no one knows, and instead assumes that he has drowned in the river outside of town, Gerda confronts the river and demands her best friend back. It’s small moments like this, Gerda pleading with a body of water, that stick out to me.

While “The Snow Queen” is not perfect, I enjoy it very much, and I want other people to enjoy it too.