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Trisha’s March Roundup

April 3, 2008

curseA Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
As enjoyable as I find fairy tale retellings, I tend not to read them with much urgency. For me, familiarity with the source material often makes the retelling less compelling, more predictable. This was definitely not the case with A Curse Dark As Gold, which had me impatient, anxious, and racing through the pages to discover what would happen next. It’s not that there’s a lot of action, but the tension. Knowing that the story is based on Rumpelstiltskin actually made it more compelling as I wondered how Elizabeth C. Bunce would integrate the various motifs and characters of the fairy tale into her story.

Charlotte Miller is left to run her family’s financially troubled wool mill, Stirwaters, after the death of her father. Charlotte loves Stirwaters and understands how important it is to the village of Shearing. But no matter how hard she and her younger sister, Rosie, work, it seems as if they will lose the mill. Until a strange man calling himself Jack Spinner appears.

This is a fantastic book that deserves a full-length review, if only I could figure out how to write one that actually conveyed how good it is and how much appeal it has for both teens and adults. But it has been reviewed by a number of other bloggers, including Miss Erin, who also brought us this excellent interview, Bookshelves of Doom, and Teen Book Review, among others. Oh, and here’s another interview, this one with Elizabeth C. Bunce’s editor, Cheryl Klein.

swan kingdomThe Swan Kingdom by Zoë Marriott
I have mixed feelings about the cover of this book. It does reflect the story well but there’s just waaaaay too much going on. Then again, maybe that makes it an even better match for the book itself, which is another fairy tale retelling (The Wild Swans). Not as good as A Curse Dark as Gold, partly due to the predictability factor, but also because there’s a bit too much going on, just like the cover. However, it is in some ways a more vibrant read than Curse, largely because of Marriott’s voice. And the cover is vibrant, too…

Anyway, Alexandra is devastated when her mother dies. Her father is also heartbroken, but one day he returns from a hunt with a strange woman, proclaiming his love for her and his intention to marry her. The woman, Zella, seems to have a mysterious ability to win over everyone in the kingdom except for Alexandra and her brothers. It’s a very dangerous ability since Alexandra’s father is the king and Zella’s desires have disastrous effects on the kingdom’s wealth, land, and the lives of Alexandra and her brothers.

I was probably trying to read too much into Marriott’s intentions, but in early parts of the book I did wonder if she was trying to make a statement about the environment and women’s roles in fairy tales. Then I decided that, yes, I was reading too much into it because if there was a message, it was getting very mixed.

Also reviewed at Scholar’s Blog.

empireEmpire by James Laxer
Empire is part of the Groundwork Guides series of non-fiction. According to the publisher, “The Groundwork Guides provide an overview of key contemporary political and social issues. Engaging, concise and clearly written, these books tackle pressing and sometimes controversial topics, offering both a lively introduction to the subject and a strong point of view.”

This description definitely applies to Empire, which examines empires from the ancient world through the contemporary U.S. I found parts of it overly simplistic (especially the Red State/Blue State section in chapter 3, “The American Empire”—this was no Barack Obama 2004 Democratic convention speech—but at the same time it raised issues I hadn’t considered before), not surprising for a book so small and slim, and I don’t actually recall seeing a discussion of the French Empire in the section that was supposedly about British and French Empires. That said, it lived up to the concise, lively, and engaging billing. The author’s bias is obvious, but I thought it made the book more readable. (Although it probably didn’t hurt that I basically have the same point of view.) It’s Canadian, which gives it a slightly different perspective I appreciated, and while it’s exactly the kind of YA non-fiction I would have wanted to read as a teen, it won’t be flying off your shelves, either. Limited appeal, but solid stuff for those teens who are interested.

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