Review: The Little Queen by Meia Geddes

At the Boston Book Festival, I couldn’t not bring home a new book! While exploring the booths, I came across a collective of self-published, independent authors. One of those authors was Meia Geddes, who struck me as kind and soft-spoken as she explained to me what the booth was about. I took a look at the books she had out, and I instantly fell in love with this book cover:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it was just gorgeous and completely my aesthetic. That shade of lavender is almost exactly the same as the paint on my bedroom walls.

The Little Queen is a charming fairy tale that, as you might guess, somewhat recalls The Little Prince. It’s no copy, though–Geddes infuses the novella with its own distinct atmosphere. The little queen, who is nameless, ageless, and faceless, struggles with the idea of being a little queen and strikes out on an adventure, hoping to find someone to take her place. What she discovers is not a replacement, but rather a journey to self-actualization.

Her journeys through her kingdom lead her to meet a variety of unusual people–some of the first citizens she meets are called the book sniffer and the wall sawyer. While their occupations are specific to the point of uselessness, every person the little queen meets has a deep underlying motivation for her chosen path in life. The outwardly whimsical, but truly meaningful natures of the people of this world are reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth or The Neverending Story.

The little queen discovers herself, but another underlying theme is love. Every time she meets interesting people, they pair off and go away to live their lives together. She is never resentful or jealous of her newfound friends, but after the deaths of her parents, she is clearly lonely. This isn’t an angsty book by any means, though. After wandering for a long time, the little queen eventually finds a love of her own.

Within the pages are hidden many pearls of wisdom about dreams, writing, and living life to the fullest, told through metaphors that often have straightforward meanings, but are nonetheless quirky and offbeat in presentation.

Aside from the cover art, the same illustrator contributes similarly lovely artwork throughout the book, the design complementing the writing without getting in the way of the reader’s imagination.

My one complaint is that the ending, in which all the characters design houses together, comes across as a bit protracted (a serious flaw for a book of one hundred pages!) and purple in prose. Still, because it’s a concise novella otherwise, anyone who picks up the book will easily finish it without being disturbed by a few bloated paragraphs.

If you’re looking for a quick, pleasant read or a children’s book with timeless appeal, The Little Queen is for you.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

You may also like:

Check out my masterlist for the rest of my posts and reviews!

Quick October Book Recommendations

I’m a busy bee this weekend, but I still wanted to put up a post today! Here’s a quick rundown of books I think are great to read in October. It’s a good mix of creepy and fun, so I think there’s something for everyone here!

1. The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

If you love psychological horror and aren’t averse to gore, The Vegetarian will be a gourmet meal for you (ha!). Yeong-hye, an ordinary woman, starts to have intense, bloody nightmares involving meat, and to make them stop, she decides to become a vegetarian. Her traditional family don’t understand the changes in her behavior, and as Yeong-hye’s mental state deteriorates, she faces hostility rather than support from the people around her.

2. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Fan of the classics? Put a spooky spin on it with this fun and campy take on the text of Pride and Prejudice. It sounds like a gimmick, and it is, but it’s also extremely high quality. Confession: I read this version before actual Pride and Prejudice, and it helped me follow the story and the somewhat archaic writing style when I did read the original. It’s not a total rewrite, but rather a rework with interpolations.

3. Charlie Bone/Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

These were some of the first “big” books I read as an elementary schooler, back when I thought 400 pages was an absolutely colossal book. Charlie Bone is a kid who discovers an unusual ability to see into the past through photographs, and he’s packed off to school with a group of children, the Endowed, who each boast their own specific magical talents. It’s Harry Potter-esque without being a carbon copy, and I think it’s an underrated pick for kids who want “something like Harry Potter!”

4. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Here’s the pitch: a buddy comedy about an angel and a demon during the Apocalypse. If that idea strikes you as overly blasphemous, I wouldn’t bother picking it up, but if you have more of a sense of humor about such things, you’ll probably enjoy it. It taps into ideas both Biblical and cultural about what the Apocalypse will be like and pokes gentle fun at them. I actually learned a thing or two from it!

5. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

You’ve already read it, right? If not, now’s the perfect time! If you have, what’s stopping you from rereading them for the third or fourth or eleventy-second time? Nothing, that’s what. Aside from being a tale of magic, Harry Potter has the best Halloween-oriented plot points in the game.

Have you read any of these? What are your favorite Halloween reads? Let me know in the comments!

You may also like:

Check out my masterlist for the rest of my posts and reviews!

Review: Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

This review is based on an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

I love Ella Enchanted. I love Gail Carson Levine’s entire bibliography. If you haven’t seen it, I’ve written an essay on the impact Ella Enchanted has made on my life. So when I got the chance to read Ogre Enchanted before it officially comes out, I was psyched. This book can stand alone, but it’s also a prequel featuring characters from the generation before Ella.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

There’s a suggestion of a Beauty and the Beast narrative, but Ogre Enchanted is content to leave it as a vague inspiration rather than the basis of the tale. In fact, the Beauty and the Beast story canonically exists as a fairy tale in this universe. This stands in contrast to Ella Enchanted and Fairest, which are retellings, albeit ones that take great liberties with the source material.

Our protagonist, Evie, turns down a marriage proposal from her friend Wormy in the presence of the familiar fairy Lucinda, who turns her into an ogre in retaliation. If Evie can’t secure and accept another proposal within the time limit, she’ll remain one forever.

The main appeal for me as a fan of Levine is the expanded world-building. This story sheds light on the workings of ogre culture and magic, gives important background information on the history of Kyrria, and explains how Ella’s parents got together. The main plot-line is solid enough, but it seems a bit formulaic, and I would have preferred a different ending.

Spoilers under the cut.

Continue reading “Review: Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine”

Flashback Friday: Childhood Favorites

If you know me, you know I am an ardent fan of Ella Enchanted and Gail Carson Levine, and that her books pretty much defined my childhood. Today, though, I’m going to go a bit deeper into the authors and books that made me who I am now. I’ve restricted myself to elementary school favorites — middle school is a whole different game.

1. The Town Cats by Lloyd Alexander

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

I’m easy. I will read almost any book that prominently features a cat. The Town Cats is a collection of short stories about various sentient talking cats in fantasy medieval settings, an excellent premise that is brilliantly executed here. The cats in question are often heroes, but usually roguish ones. Most memorably, the first story of the collection features a cat who convinces the entire populace of his village to switch place with their cats in order to evade increased regulation and taxes from the government. As you can guess, the level of humor is perfect for family entertainment: funny for kids, but with an extra layer of absurdity for their parents. It’s kind of like SpongeBob that way.

(See also: Time Cat, Chronicles of Prydain)

2. Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles) by Patricia C. Wrede
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

I found Princess Cimorene’s name to be supremely unpronounceable, but that didn’t stop me from adoring her. This contrarian princess saves herself not from a dragon, but from a forced marriage by means of taking up with a dragon named Kazul. Whenever a prince or knight comes to “save” her in exchange for a hefty reward, she sternly kicks him out, usually without even calling on Kazul. She also learns practical skills from her new reptilian mentor, thwarts the plans of some unscrupulous wizards, and makes friends with other captives. I would gladly live in a cave with Kazul, who is the chillest dragon aunt ever.

3. Maximum Boy series by Dan Greenburg

51fHvi1s4DL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

Max is a kid with amazing superpowers, but the caveat is that he can only use them at maximum. Maximum speed, maximum strength — he can’t parade that kind of power in front of his classmates, so he sticks to being the second slowest kid in gym class. In that sense, he’s a bit like Deku in My Hero Academia, for you anime fans. Also, he’s allergic to math. …There’s no real explanation for that part. I checked this series out of the library a weird number of times, and I’m not really sure why. It’s such a typical kid-superhero storyline, but it’s well done. Max reminds me a little bit of Percy Jackson, a wisecracking kid who somehow has to save Manhattan.

4. Tales of Magic series by Edward Eager

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

I took these from my classroom library originally mistaking them for Roald Dahl books. The covers in my teacher’s classroom copies featured cute sketches of children in fantastical situations against a white background, so it was an easy mistake to make. It’s a charming series of low fantasy stories that take a group of children from the mundane to the fantastical. It’s hard for me to remember specific plot points, but all of it has an air of whimsy. The “half magic” coin only does half of what you want it to, and there’s a thyme garden that facilitates time travel. It surprises me that I don’t hear more people talking about these books.

What books did you love reading as a kid? Are any of these among them? Tell me in the comments!

You may also like:

Check out my masterlist for all of my posts and reviews!

The Book That Made Me A Reader: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

In some senses, I’ve always been a reader. My parents read to me as a child and took me to the library. As a toddler, I lived down the street from the local library. I remember my mom walking me down there after my older siblings had left for school. I remember sitting on the carpet to listen to the librarian at story time. When I think about it, a great deal of my fond early memories have to do with reading. Reading at the library, reading at school, reading at the church library, reading on the couch with Mom or Dad. I’m thankful to my parents and to all the teachers and librarians in my childhood who fostered my love of reading like it was some kind of particularly fussy plant.

However, there’s a stark contrast between the way I read in elementary school versus middle school. In elementary school, I was content to read through books one after another. I don’t remember the age when I was young enough to demand the same bedtime story every night. By the time I was old enough to read for myself, I would finish a book and move right to the next one. I didn’t mind reading a book again if nothing else looked appealing, but I didn’t obsess.

That changed with a book I first encountered in the third grade, Ella Enchanted. My teacher, Mrs. Biolsi, was a kind older lady who encouraged my growth in every subject. I ate up science and math lessons just as eagerly as reading and writing with her. To my knowledge, she is now retired and still lives in the area. Every day after lunch, she would gather the class on a blue carpet to listen to her read aloud. I usually paid attention, although I also remember occasionally poking at the braid of a classmate who had long, glossy hair. (Sorry, Ashley.) Aside from recess, it was everyone’s favorite part of the day.

There’s a stereotype that girls will read “boy books,” but boys won’t read “girl books.” Well, Ella Enchanted is definitively a “girl book,” but it was a class favorite across the board. Maybe it was the ogres; maybe boys will give “girl books” a chance if you don’t make it seem like a bad thing; maybe it’s Maybelline. In any case, we always begged for Mrs. Biolsi to read one more chapter. Ella being banished to finishing school, running away, being kidnapped by ogres, lying to Char so he would forget about her, meeting him again at a masquerade– this stuff was high drama the likes of which our tiny eight-year-old minds had never seen before! We were gasping with every twist.

Then we finished the book. That was it… for a while.

ella-enchanted-2
There was the movie, but no matter how much I love Anne Hathaway, let’s be honest: it was kind of disappointing.

My parents joined a “small group” with people from our church. If you’re not familiar, a small group is similar to a Bible study, but a bit more broad, with a focus on fostering community between the members. In our small group, the parents would tote us kids along. We would have snacks and say hello to our parents’ friends, but once the meeting started, we would be shooed off to another room where one of the older kids would babysit us.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered that our host, Mrs. Richetti, was a teacher who had loads of old classroom copies sitting in her house, and that she was fine with me borrowing them. This included an entire row full of Ella Enchanted. So I took a copy home with me.

I read it once. I read it twice. Soon enough, it became my go-to book whenever I was bored. I was especially obsessed with the part where Ella writes a letter to Char purposely trying to make him hate her. I would mentally rewrite that scene so that they could end up together sooner without her lying to him. I couldn’t bear their love being snatched away from them so soon after Char’s confession.

I discovered more of Gail Carson Levine’s books after that: FairestThe Two Princesses of BamarreEver, and The Princess Tales series. But I would always, always go back to Ella Enchanted. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but I would be surprised if it were less than one hundred. I have two copies. One is completely in tatters, and the other is also well-loved. I was never one to mistreat my books, either.

20180730_163024

What is it about this book that enchanted me so? When it comes down to it, it was Ella. She was everything I wanted to be: smart, funny, kind, and independent. She went on adventures. She was strong and was able to take care of herself in dangerous and heartbreaking situations. I liked Prince Char, of course, as well as Mandy the fairy godmother and Ella’s friend Areida. But it was Ella who encapsulated the hero I dreamt of being. Her smile on the front cover made her look like she knew something I didn’t.

Looking back, this is extremely characteristic of me at that age. I was transfixed by teenage girls and young women. At the small group, when a girl named Krystal babysat us, I was angelic as could be. I wanted to be just like her when I was older, and I even sent her letters when she moved away. When one of the Richetti boys babysat, though, I became a total maniac. I was like that with everything. No one could gain my attention and respect more easily than a “young and pretty and nice!” woman. When it came to guys, I was more in the “pulling pigtails” stage.

Isn’t that the whole shtick with Disney princesses, too? There’s always a prince, yes, but it’s the princesses that we love and remember.

False-CEO
A photo of me imagining myself as Ella of Frell.

For me, Ella Enchanted was the gateway into not only loving books, but thinking about them, talking about them, and theorizing about them. As I got older, books became one of the main ways I related to my friends. In middle school we would play pretend games based on our favorite books, and even into high school we would talk about Harry PotterThe Hunger Games, and yes, briefly, Twilight.

How did you get into reading? Was there a particular book that sucked you into it? Tell me in the comments!

You may also like:

Check out my masterlist for all of my posts and reviews!

Review: The Cake Tree in the Ruins by Akiyuki Nosaka

I received a digital advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There are many wars going on around the world, many children and families are suffering, but these hardly affect those of us living in peacetime and we become inured to the images of suffering that we see on TV. I feel strongly that people should be aware of the reality of war and why we should do everything in our power to avoid it—whether it affects us directly or not. That is why stories like the ones in this collection are so important.

— Ginny Tapley Takemori, translator

Ghibli_grave_of_the_fireflies_film_poster

Akiyuki Nosaka is best known as the author of “Grave of the Fireflies,” an award-winning short story that was adapted to film by Studio Ghibli, becoming one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of all time. The stories in this collection are diverse, but like “Grave of the Fireflies,” they also concern the tragedies of World War II, particularly as seen through the eyes of children and animals. This short story collection is an expansion on the 2015 English-language publication of The Whale that Fell in Love with a Submarine. It includes five additional stories not included in the original English publication, making a total of twelve.

51iKmSrDfaL._SY372_BO1,204,203,200_

Nosaka presents war as a calamity that inevitably strikes innocents who cannot fully understand it or be complicit in its violence. The personification of animals, child-oriented tone, and elements of magical realism throughout the book give the stories a fairy-tale feeling that contrasts with their dark subject matter.

Content below the cut contains spoilers.

Continue reading “Review: The Cake Tree in the Ruins by Akiyuki Nosaka”