Entwined: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

In a tiny kingdom there were twelve princesses. On the night of the smallest princess’ birth, their hearts were broken and their mother taken too soon. After years of dancing and laughter, their castle is thrust into mourning–the once happy home darkened by black clothes and their father’s grief.

One day the princesses found a magical land of silver and music. A mysterious and dashing stranger known only as Keeper presides over this strange landscape where the girls can dance every night until the slippers on their feet wear thin.

But nothing lasts forever and, when magic is involved, nothing is as it seems in Entwined (2011) by Heather Dixon.

Entwined is essentially a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” which was originally published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.* In this version the princesses are more proactive. The actual discovery of where the princesses dance also takes a slightly less prominent role to make way for the more sinister plot involving Keeper and his own agenda.

This is a fun book ideal for anyone who enjoys reading about princesses and castles. Azalea, the eldest, is an endearing heroine as are her sisters. While Bramble’s blunt nature and rash temper can wear thin the girls are all, really, very charming characters. Each princess is named after a flower (alphabetical order no less) which actually works quite well with the story and makes for a cute touch. With so many characters some do get lost in the shuffle or boil down to broad characterizations but again with so many characters at the center of a story that might be inevitable.

The story is original but by the end a lot of things are happening to Azalea instead of her being proactive. The lack of communication between the sisters toward the end of the story also felt unconvincing when they all appeared in every scene. (And some aspects of the love story angle felt thin.)

Dixon’s world building is solid. The castle with its dingy appearance and lackluster furnishings comes to life with her descriptions. The history behind the castle and the monarchy is well-presented and even the country’s relationship with other nations is mentioned although not in great detail. As with the characters I had this nagging feeling that while I loved what was on the page, I also wanted more.

One of the things I really liked about this story was the focus on family. As much as the dancing is a part of the story this is really a book about a father reconnecting with his daughters and a family moving on after a terrible loss. Being able to get that kind of book wrapped up in a fantasy makes this book something special. Entwined is an entertaining fantasy that will draw readers in with a familiar premise only to deliver a story that is ultimately surprising and appealing.

*WARNING: These might constitute SPOILERS but read on if you want to know what elements Dixon keeps from the original story. Entwined features 12 princesses, a magic land of silver, and the girls do dance until their shoes wear out. They are not locked in each night. The men who try to solve the riddle are not beheaded. While the hero who solves the riddle is a soldier, he is not old (no one in this story is very old) but he does have an invisibility cloak of sorts. Except  for the boats and princes to escort the girls across a lake (a trope found in Wildwood Dancing) this is a very faithful retelling.
loved everything but the story flagged toward the end–would have liked az to be stronger/more proactive. lack of communication also not convincing between the sisters

Pairings: Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Exclusive Bonus Content: I have a rule that I read anything and everything related to “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” but I was also drawn to this book because of its cover which I think is really interesting. (The vines also appear at the beginning of each chapter in the book.) My mom, on the other hand, thought the girl looked like she crawled out of a swamp–fair enough. While reading this book I was reminded a lot of Wildwood Dancing (another book with a great cover)–I’d definitely recommend reading both if you consider reading one as  they provide nice counter-points to each other with different versions of the same fairy tale.

The Unicorn’s Tale: A (Rapid Fire {Nathaniel Fludd}) Review

The Unicorn’s Tale by R. L. LaFevers, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (2011)

Book 4 in the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series

Since I have already reviewed book 1, book 2 and book 3 of the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series I decided that for book 4 I didn’t need to go in depth with background information. SPOILER: I loved all of the books. Much as it pains me to say this, we’re really at the point in the series where you have to read the previous books to keep up.

In addition to featuring one of my favorite mythical creatures (I’m on Team Unicorn) this book gets back to basics established in book one. Nathaniel and Aunt Phil stay together for the entire story, Cornelius the Dodo is back. And we learn more about Nate’s parents.

The mythological beast story was charming and worked well with the more ongoing story of Nathaniel’s missing parents. We are also treated to an excerpt from the Book of Beasts (instead of a glossary) filled with information on the various kinds of unicorns. As usual Murphy’s illustrations are gorgeous and add a fun dimension to the story.

I love this series and am kind of obsessed with it. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an old fashioned adventure-fantasy for the younger set.

Noodle Pudding: A “from scratch” Recipe

It has come to my attention that some readers did not appreciate the “recipe” aspect of my brownies (otherwise known as The Best Brownies in the World). My first response is: your loss, those brownies rock.

My second response is a conciliatory recipe for Noodle Pudding.

My mom found this recipe in a mystery paperback she was reading (tragically, I no longer know the title). The book called it “California Noodle Pudding.” We made a few substitutions and wound up with “Italian Noodle Pudding.” It was really good although I’d recommend letting it cool before eating it because it was kind of gross hot. It also was markedly better each day after the initial baking (cooking?).

Here’s the recipe for either Italian of California Noodle Pudding:

  • 16 ounces wide egg noodles, cooked and drained
  • 4 ounces of butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 1 pound cottage cheese (for Italian pudding use 1 pound ricotta cheese instead)
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 ounces of dried apricots, cut in small pieces (for Italian pudding use 6 ounces of raisins instead)
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds (skip this for the Italian pudding)

Pour cooked noodles in a bowl (HINT: You are going to need really, really big bowls for this recipe!) and mix in butter pieces.

In a separate bowl mix the sour cream and cottage cheese (or ricotta cheese).

Add the beaten eggs and mix until blended.

Mix in vanilla and sugar.

Mix in the apricot pieces (or the raisins).

Combine mixture with the noodles.

Pour into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake 1 hours.

Yield: 12 servings

Remembering Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones died yesterday at the age of 76 after being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009.

Jones is one of my favorite authors and I don’t think it’s exaggeration to say that her books truly changed the face of the fantasy genre. Fire and Hemlock in particular is an amazing work–one that I (and dynamo librarian “Sarah”) think really works with every single book ever written.

I’m really crushed by this news and so sad to know there will be no more books by this wonderful, talented, amazing author.

If you have read some of her books (maybe Howl’s Moving Castle or a Chrestomanci novel) I hope you eventually read all of them as I know I will. If you have not yet found her I hope you pick up one of her novels so you can love her books as much I do and so that you can understand why this is such a huge loss.

From Our Gift Cottage: Free Form Rose Quartz Necklace

This is a weekly feature exhibiting different handmade jewelry items available for sale at my mom’s Etsy shop: Diane and Emma’s Gift Cottage. (She’s Diane and I’m Emma. We make jewelry–together!)

This week I want to show off a really unique Rose Quartz Necklace:

This Rose Quartz necklace is 24 inches long and made with unique free form stones on one necklace that make it a real statement piece.

It is hand knotted to a fancy silver plated steel chain with a toggle clasp. The necklace was designed by Diane (my mom) and made by her so it is one of a kind and exclusive to us.

The Rose Quartz stones are about 1 to 1 1/2 inches with 7mm round beads in between. The fancy Steel chain is oxidized silver plate and is a ladder link with each link measuring about 3 by 4mm. The silver toggle clasp is 3/8 inch.

This necklace is available for sale on Etsy.

We also have a similar necklace in Jasper.

Don’t forget to check out the Gift Cottage’s full inventory for more great jewelry.

Casting Katniss: My Thoughts (and some links)

I feel like I would be remiss as a book blogger if I didn’t offer some comments on the recent announcement that Jennifer Lawrence will be playing Katniss Everdeen in the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games.

Before I get into details let me stress that these are just my opinions. I’m not overly familiar with Lawrence (or any of the other actresses who were in the running) but the decision is getting enough press and interesting enough that it seemed worth discussing.

The news broke last week when Lionsgate announced that Jennifer Lawrence accepted the role. Lawrence, 20, is most recently known for her Academy Award nominated role in Winter’s Bone. I have heard nothing but good things about her as an actress.

Gary Ross, who will be directing the film, also loves Lawrence for the role. In an interview Ross said casting Lawrence was the easiest casting decision he has ever made. Suzanne Collins, the author of the bestselling trilogy/phenomenon, also sent out a letter to readers saying for her Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss.

With endorsements like that it’s impossible to argue against the decision. But I am still going to share some of my own thoughts.

First, a lot of people are excited about the choice. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Lawrence and am sure she’ll be great although she isn’t the person I imagined Katniss to be (not that anyone would have been–who knows?). Some objections were raised about Lawrence being older than Katniss (who is 16 at the start of the story) but Hollywood historically casts actors and actresses to play younger than they really are.

A bigger issue for a lot of readers is the fact that Jennifer Lawrence is a fair complexioned blonde while Katniss is described repeatedly as dark haired, grey eyed, and olive skinned like most of the people who live in the poorer area of District 12 called “the Seam.”

Does that mean Katniss is bi-racial? Does it mean she’s white? Who knows? In a post-apocalyptic dystopian world like Panem race can mean a lot of different things. Rue, for instance, is supposed to be black (African American I guess but since there is no longer an Africa or an America in The Hunger Games the term seems inaccurate) but I read her–throughout the series–as hispanic or latina. I also completely missed District 12 being located in Appalachia. It happens.

At the end of the day does the story lose its impact or importance based on Katniss being white (or not)? No.

Malina Lo posted about the issue of racial background in novels and the Katniss casting decision which explains all of that much better than I did. (Her comment thread also has an interesting discussion going.)

S. Jae-Jones at Uncreated Conscience also has an insightful post discussing whether Katniss is actually white.

I agree with both that it doesn’t really matter. While I was initially surprised by Lawrence being cast in the role because she just doesn’t look as I imagined Katniss, I’m sure she will be wonderful–how can she not be when Suzanne Collins thinks she is perfect for the role?

That said, it’s interesting to see all of the talk about how Lawrence will look like Katniss once she gets makeup and hair dye. For those of you who have read the books, doesn’t that sound a lot like the styling process Katniss went through for her appearance in the Games?

People have also asked why Katniss’ skin tone matters for a movie when it didn’t really matter for the books. For my part, it always mattered. Katniss being olive skinned was one of the things I internalized immediately about her character, not necessarily because it was important to her racial background but because it was important to her class.

Katniss and Gale look alike. A lot of people from their neighborhood, called The Seam, do look alike with that dark hair and olive skin and those grey eyes. These are the poorest people in District 12. We know from characters like Peeta, the mayor’s daughter Madge, and even Katniss’ own mother (whose family owned an apothecary’s shop because she “married down” to be with Katniss and Prim’s father), that the better off residents of District 12 do not look like this. They are fair skinned and blonde haired.

I’m still confident the movie, and Lawrence, will be great. But the role of race (or maybe just coloring if Katniss is white?) in the books, and the role of styling to Katniss as a tribute and a figurehead, makes an interesting lens through which to look at casting choices for Katniss and the other characters.

But those are my thoughts. What do you, dear readers, think about the choice of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss? Is anyone else slightly worried about Alex Pettyfer playing Peeta? Is that just me?

Real Live Boyfriends: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ruby Oliver has been in therapy. She has gone through Reginald several times. Her ex-boyfriend has cheated on her and turned into a pod-robot. Her best friends weren’t such good friends. She has conquered bake sales, November Week and befriended a pygmy goat named Robespierre.

Some of it was hard, some of it was fun. All of it led Ruby to a new group of strange but dependable friends and, maybe more surprisingly, to a new boyfriend.

Noel is the perfect boyfriend. He’s Ruby’s real, live boyfriend and everything is perfect. At least it is for a while.

But then everything gets complicated again. Noel shuts down and shuts Ruby out. Her parents are fighting. Hutch has gone to Paris to study and do whatever retro-metal fans do in France. Megan is busy with her real live boyfriend. Things with Nora are still kind of a mess. Then Gideon shows up. Shirtless.

It’s all a mess but with little patience and a lot of mishaps Ruby might be able to survive these recent debacles, her panic attacks, and even manage to make a few lists about the whole thing in Real Live Boyfriends: Yes. Boyfriends, plural. If my life weren’t complicated, I wouldn’t be Ruby Oliver (2010) by E. Lockhart.

Real Live Boyfriends is the fourth book in the Ruby Oliver Quartet. Ruby’s earlier adventures are chronicled begining in The Boyfriend List and followed by The Boy Book and The Treasure Map of Boys.

I love reading about Ruby’s misadventures and all of her friends. Almost everything about this conclusion was spot on. My only real complaint: I wished Hutch was around more. Because he was my favorite character.

Real Live Boyfriends was the right conclusion to a really fun, sincere series. Reading through the books Ruby felt like a personal friend and it’s hard to believe her adventures are over so quickly (I only started reading the series a couple months ago). The book picks up during the summer before Ruby’s senior year and conclude during at the end of the first semester. Lockhart provides closure for Ruby’s panic attacks, her friends, her parents and even Robespierre the pygmy goat. Questions are answered about Kim, Nora, Cricket and Gideon.

It’s sad to see the end of the series but Roo fans will find a satisfying if bittersweet conclusion. Loose ends from the series are tied up while still leaving Ruby looking at a future that can be whatever she wants it to be. And knowing Ruby, you can bet it will be a bright, zany future.

Possible Pairings: Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Exclusive Bonus Content: I’ve already mentioned being dubious about the new covers that show Ruby but not Ruby wearing glasses. I still feel that way. But then I noticed the Ruby on this cover is wearing white fishnets. So almost all is forgiven.