Today I Read…The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma

The Cat, the Dog, Little RedToday I read The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma by Diane and Christyan Fox.

Cat is trying to tell Dog the story of Little Red Riding Hood, but Dog has a lot of questions. Like, if Little Red wears a cape, what’s her superpower? Why doesn’t Little Red know the difference between her grandmother and a wolf? And do the eggs in her basket explode so she can use them to fight crime?

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I loved this one when I saw it at a publishers’ sale for librarians, and I instantly bought it for my school library. I really enjoyed doing this one as a read-aloud. I always did storytime by myself, but this book could be a great performance story for two storytellers, since Cat and Dog each have their own lines. Alternatively, you can just use different voices if you’re reading it by yourself.

This book is really better for kids who already know the basic version of Little Red Riding Hood, since it’s a retelling and it can get confusing for kids who don’t know the common story. Most kids do know it, so for kindergarten and above you can just ask them “Do you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood? Well, this is kind of like that.” I didn’t have the time to read the original and the retelling during my storytime periods, so just the reminder was fine, but if you have more time than you can certainly do a themed storytime and read different versions. It’s also a good interrupting story, so as the storyteller you can use Dog as a model of how not to behave when someone is telling you a story, and show why Cat is getting frustrated. While I love storytelling, I definitely had a few days when certain classes needed to be reminded of how to behave during storytime.

The illustrations and crisp and simple, usually just Cat and Dog acting out the story instead of Red and the Wolf and Grandma. There is minimal colour and a lot of white space, which makes it easy to focus on the pictures. The title, while long, is fun to say, especially when you get to the part about the exploding eggs. I love the way the Foxes used every part of the book to tell the story, including the front and back cover and the endpapers, especially the illustration on the back when Grandma is knocking on her wardrobe door to come out. I always turn the book around so the kids can see it and knock on the hardcover while I plaintively call out “Hello? Hello?” It’s a crowd pleaser.

The story is hilarious and charming, and fun to read for both the storyteller and the listener. But Dog makes some very good points–are we sure the original is a children’s story? Why doesn’t the Wolf eat Little Red in the forest? And will anyone ever let Grandma out of the wardrobe? Read the book to find out!

 

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Today I Read…Cinderella: Fables Are Forever

Fables Are ForeverToday I read Cinderella: Fables Are Forever, part of the Fables created by Bill Willingham. It was written by Chris Roberson and illustrated by Shawn McManus.

The lovely princess Cinderella, socialite and proprietor of a shoe store in Fabletown, has a secret that the other Fables don’t know–she is actually a high-ranking spy, sent out by Sheriff Bigby Wolf on missions to protect the Fables from dangers they will hopefully never find out about. And Cinderella is very, very good at her job.

But someone from Cinderella’s past has returned to threaten everything she holds dear–the mysterious and deadly assassin codenamed Silver Slipper. And she will stop at nothing to destroy Cinderella. They will chase each other around the world and beyond to decide once and for all– will Cinderella lose her life along with her shoes at midnight? Or will Silver Slipper be blown away for the last time?

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I’ve talked a bit about the world of Fables in my review of Cubs in Toyland. Fables Are Forever is a complete story set in the Fables world but away from the main storyline, and most of the other Fables never know what Cinderella is up to. This is an action-packed James Bond-style story–I wonder if Bond will ever show up as a modern Fable? There are newer Fables that didn’t come from the Homeworlds… While the bikini-clad fight scene between Cinderella and Silver Slipper does set a lot of the tone for the rest of the story (bikinis and towels and sheets and tight low-cut shirts, oh my!), I suppose it does fit in the with mature nature of the Fables universe.

Fables focuses on the main characters and their adventures, the ones who came to the Mundy world from the Homeworlds to settle in Fabletown and on the Farm. It’s always interesting to see what happens to those Fables who don’t stay at home, the ones who never joined Fabletown. Silver Slipper’s story isn’t complicated–the small-town girl who gets a taste for blood, and decides to become a mercenary for pleasure and profit–but it’s a fascinating contrast to Cinderella the self-proclaimed patriot. What exactly is the difference between the two women? What makes Cinderella a patriot and not a mercenary who only works for one boss? They spy, they lie, they kill. Where’s the line? The carte blanche that Bigby gives her?

Still, if you’re looking for kick-ass babes and action around the world, this is the place to find it. Tomorrow may never die, but Fables are Forever.

Cinderella pow

Today I Read…Cress

CressToday I read Cress by Marissa Meyer, the third book in The Lunar Chronicles series after Cinder and Scarlet.

Cress lives all alone on a satellite that orbits Earth.  A worthless Shell from the Moon, she was condemned to death at birth and rescued by her Mistress. She watches the world below and dreams of a wide open sky, and a handsome prince who will come and rescue her. Cress knows better– Mistress will never let her go free. She was kept alive because she is the best hacker in the world, and this is useful to Mistress and to the wicked Queen Levana, who is finally beginning her invasion of Earth after years of plotting.

But things are changing on Earth and on the Moon–Linh Cinder, the cyborg who defied the Queen, has escaped prison and is on the run with a farm pilot, a renegade Moon soldier, and the handsome, dashing, brave, kind Captain Carswell Thorne. They’re looking for the long-lost Princess Selene, the rightful heir to the Lunar Kingdom, and the only person who can stop Queen Levana from marrying Emperor Kaito of the Eastern Commonwealth and becoming the Empress of Earth.

Cress contacts Cinder and her friends and offers her help, if they will rescue her from her prison. But Mistress interrupts and Cress and Thorne crash-land in the middle of the desert. Separated from their friends, they must escape the desert and stop the royal wedding that will spell tyranny for the Earth and death for Cinder’s beloved Kai. But they must also avoid the mad scientist who is hunting Lunars–a scientist who has been looking for his lost precious Crescent Moon for a very, very long time…

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This series keeps getting better and better with every installment. Meyer has created a rich world, set in a dystopia framed like a utopia, with fairy tale elements woven in so gracefully that sometimes I’m in the middle of the scene before I remember the reference and make the connection to the original story. For example, Cress’ name is short for Crescent Moon–a logical enough name for someone born in the Lunar Kingdom, where Moon-related names seem to be common. But cress is also in some versions of the story the plant that Rapunzel’s mother craved during her pregnancy and that her father stole from the witch’s garden, which led to the witch demanding the babe as payment for the theft. Cress has long, tangled hair which whirls around the room, because she has been isolated for so long and no one else has been there to cut it for her. And it isn’t a lovely, shining, part of her beauty, it’s heavy and tangled and frizzy and literally a pain in her neck from the weight. Let’s face it, there’s a very good reason that hair past your waist is uncommon nowadays–it’s time-consuming and inconvenient and requires a great deal of attention to keep it tidy and controlled. In the fairy tale the prince is blinded by thorns when he falls from the tower–here Thorne is blinded when he gets hit on the head when the satellite crash-lands on Earth.

Cress is very different from Disney’s spunky Rapunzel–she has the same intelligence and wide range of interests to keep herself occupied, but she’s not quite sane due to her isolation. Not crazy, but her marbles are rolling around a little. Cinder and Scarlet both grew up surrounded by people, friends, family, neighbours, people they liked and people they hated–Cress has had no one for years except for Mistress, who doesn’t exactly like to stop by for tea and gossip. Cress also approaches romance differently than Cinder and Scarlet do–they both meet their princes (or wolves), like them, argue, fall in love, get separated, fight to be reunited…the usual. Cress falls for Thorne before she ever meets him based on how he looks and her in-depth background check that she thinks means she knows ‘the real Thorne’. Cress is a little bit of a creepy internet stalker. She learns that he’s no noble knight in shining armour, but he’s not a ruthless criminal either–he’s just a man. Maybe he’ll be a lover, but first he’ll be a friend.

We spend less time on society in this book, now that the world is more firmly established, and more time on the rebels’ adventures. There are still hints of what is to come–everything is connected, be it ever so long ago and far away. Each of the girls–Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and the forthcoming Winter–are linked by their families, people who set events into motion many years ago that the girls are going to have to work together to set right. And only by working together can they find the truth and destroy Levana’s power.

I’m still loving this series, and I’m looking forward to the fourth and final book, Winter, due out in 2015. (I have to wait a year?!? Aww, man!) Meyer has created a fascinating world populated by very active princesses, and even the damsel in distress still tries to fight back however she can. These princesses will live happily ever after with their chosen princes because they will fight damn hard to make sure that evil is defeated and they get their happy endings. These princesses will change the world.

Still suitable for anyone who likes a butt-kicking princess, whether the butts she kicks are mechanical, electronic, or physical.

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Her satellite made one full orbit around planet Earth every sixteen hours. It was a prison that came with an endlessly breathtaking view—vast blue oceans and swirling clouds and sunrises that set half the world on fire.

When she was first imprisoned, she had loved nothing more than to stack her pillows on top of the desk that was built into the walls and drape her bed linens over the screens, making a small alcove for herself. She would pretend that she was not on a satellite at all, but in a podship en route to the blue planet. Soon she would land and step out onto real dirt, feel real sunshine, smell real oxygen.

She would stare at the continents for hours and hours, imagining what that must be like.

Her view of Luna, however, was always to be avoided. Some days her satellite passed so close that the moon took up the entire view and she could make out the enormous glinting domes on its surface and the sparkling cities where the Lunars lived. Where she, too, had lived. Years ago. Before she’d been banished.

As a child, Cress had hidden from the moon during those achingly long hours. Sometimes she would escape to the small washroom and distract herself by twisting elaborate braids into her hair. Or she would scramble beneath her desk and sing lullabies until she fell asleep. Or she would dream up a mother and a father, and imagine how they would play make-believe with her and read her adventure stories and brush her hair lovingly off her brow, until finally—finally—the moon would sink again behind the protective Earth, and she was safe.

Even now, Cress used those hours to crawl beneath her bed and nap or read or write songs in her head or work out complicated coding. She still did not like to look at the cities of Luna; she harbored a secret paranoia that if she could see the Lunars, surely they could look up beyond their artificial skies and see her.

For more than seven years, this had been her nightmare.

But now the silver horizon of Luna was creeping into the corner of her window, and Cress paid no attention. This time, her wall of invisi-screens was showing her a brand-new nightmare. Brutal words were splattered across the newsfeeds, photos and videos blurring in her vision as she scrolled from one feed to the next. She couldn’t read fast enough.

14 CITIES ATTACKED WORLDWIDE

2-HOUR MURDER SPREE RESULTS IN 16,000 EARTHEN DEATHS

LARGEST MASSACRE IN THIRD ERA

The net was littered with horrors. Victims dead in the streets with shredded abdomens and blood leaking into the gutters. Feral men-creatures with gore on their chins and beneath their fingernails and staining the fronts of their shirts. She scrolled through them all with one hand pressed over her mouth. Breathing became increasingly difficult as the truth of it all sank in.

This was her fault.

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The conspiracy theorists had been slobbering over themselves ever since the cyborg girl had disappeared. Some said that Linh Cinder was working for the Commonwealth government, or Queen Levana, or that she was in cahoots with a secret society determined to overthrow one government or another, or that she was the missing Lunar princess, or that she knew where the Lunar princess was, or that she was somehow tied to the spread of letumosis, or that she had seduced Emperor Kaito and was now pregnant with a Lunar-Earthen-cyborg thing.

There were almost as many rumors surrounding Carswell Thorne. They included theories on the realreason that he was in prison, such as plotting to kill the last emperor, or how he’d been working with Linh Cinder for years prior to her arrest, or how he was connected to an underground network that had infiltrated the prison system years ago in preparation for the day when he would require their assistance. This newest theory was suggesting that Carswell Thorne was, in fact, an undercover Lunar thaumaturge meant to assist Linh Cinder with her escape so that Luna would have an excuse for starting the war.

Essentially, nobody knew anything.

Except for Cress, who knew the truth of Carswell Thorne’s crimes, his trial, and his escape—at least, the elements of the escape she’d been able to piece together using prison surveillance video and the statements from the on-duty guards.

In fact, Cress was convinced that she knew more about Carswell Thorne than anyone else alive. In a life in which newness and novelty were so rare, he had become a fixture of fascination to her. At first, she was disgusted by him and his apparent greed and recklessness. When he’d deserted the military, he’d left half a dozen cadets and two commanding officers stranded on an island in the Caribbean. He had stolen a collection of second-era goddess sculptures from a private collector in the Eastern Commonwealth and a set of Venezuelan dream dolls on loan to a museum in Australia to potentially never be seen in public again. There were additional claims of an unsuccessful robbery of a young widow from the Commonwealth who owned an extensive collection of antique jewelry.

Cress had continued to dig, entranced by his path of self-destruction. Like watching an asteroid collision, she couldn’t look away.

But then, strange anomalies had begun to creep up in her research.

Age eight. The city of Los Angeles spent four days in panic after a rare Sumatran tiger escaped from the zoo. Video surveillance of the cage showed the young Carswell Thorne, there on a field trip with his class, opening the cage. He later told the authorities that the tiger had looked sad locked up like that, and that he didn’t regret it. Luckily, no one, including the tiger, had been hurt.

Age eleven. A police report was filed by his parents claiming they’d been robbed—overnight, a second-era diamond necklace had gone missing from his mother’s jewelry chest. The necklace was traced to a net sales listing, where it had recently sold for 40,000 univs to a buyer in Brazil. The seller was, of course, Carswell himself, who had not yet had a chance to send off the necklace, and was forced to return the payment, along with an official apology. That apology, made public record to prevent other teens from getting the same idea, claimed that he was only trying to raise money for a local charity offering android assistance to the elderly.

Age thirteen. Carswell Thorne was given a weeklong school suspension after fighting with three boys in his grade, a fight he had lost according to the school’s med-droid report. His statement proclaimed that one of the boys had stolen a portscreen from a girl named Kate Fallow. Carswell had been trying to get it back.

One situation after another was brought to Cress’s attention. Theft, violence, trespassing, school suspensions, police reprimands. Yet Carswell Thorne, when given a chance to explain, always had a reason. A good reason. A heart-stopping, pulse-racing, awe-inspiring reason.

Like the sun rising over Earth’s horizon, her perception began to change. Carswell Thorne wasn’t a heartless scoundrel at all. If anyone bothered to get to know him, they would see that he was compassionate and chivalrous.

He was exactly the kind of hero Cress had been dreaming about her entire life.

With that discovery, thoughts of Carswell Thorne began to infiltrate her every waking moment. She dreamed of deep soul connections and passionate kisses and daring escapades. She was certain that he simply had to meet her, just once, and he would feel the same way. It would be like those epic love affairs that exploded into existence and burned white hot for all eternity. The type of love that time and distance and even death couldn’t separate.

Because if there was one thing Cress knew about heroes, it was that they could not resist a damsel in distress.

And she was nothing if not in distress.

 

Today I Read…Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again

Humpty Dumpty Climbs AgainToday I read Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again, written and illustrated by Dave Horowitz.

Humpty Dumpty used to love climbing–until he had that great fall and cracked himself wide open. The doctor told him to be more careful, but now Humpty is too afraid to climb, or do anything other than sit around in his underwear watching television. But then one day the King’s favourite horse gets stuck up a wall–who will be brave enough to go and rescue him?

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This is a lovely continuation of the nursery rhyme, beginning with someone finally being sensible enough to call a doctor to put Humpty Dumpty back together again–though did not one of the king’s horses or the king’s men have any first aid training? The Health and Safety committee is falling down on their job too, I’d say. There are some nice references to other nursery rhymes too, such as including the Dish and the Spoon, the laughing Little Dog, and the scary Spider. The illustrations are large, bright, simple, and add some funny, if immature, jokes that will entertain kids. For example, when Humpty is broken, one of the king’s men holds up a piece of Humpty and asks “What is this?” and the other king’s man says “I think it’s his butt.” The adults reading it will laugh at the king’s men bemoaning “Oh the humanity” when Milt the horse is stuck on the wall, and when Humpty promises never to climb without safety equipment or pants again. There’s also some nice details in Humpty’s house, with photographs on the wall of him climbing lots of different mountains.

This book is probably more for an adult to read to a child–all of the words are the same size and set in short paragraphs, and some of the vocabulary might be a bit difficult for a beginning reader. Most kids will recognize the different nursery rhymes referenced, so the adult reader can use those to draw connections between books, and to demonstrate how stories can continue outside of the single text–what happens next after “they all lived happily ever after.” It can also be used to point out that just because something bad happens is no reason to quit doing something you love–just be more careful in the future. And always wear pants. Pants are important.

Today I Read…Scarlet

Today I read Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, the second book in The Lunar Chronicles. My review of the first book, Cinder, can be found here. Scarlet

Scarlet Benoit lives with her grand-mere Michelle on a farm in France. It’s hard work, and they don’t earn much money, but they’re happy there. Until one day when Scarlet’s grandmother disappears. The police are useless–they think that Michelle just decided to up and leave. Scarlet knows better–she knows that something terrible must have happened, but no one will listen to her.

No one, that is, except for Wolf, the street fighter. Wolf may be large and violent and strange, but he keeps turning up and helping Scarlet–more so than her own father, who finally shows up at the farm after abandoning her years ago. Her father, who has been tortured, who betrayed his own mother to his tormentors and helped kidnap her so that she too can be interrogated and tortured. Now Scarlet and Wolf are traveling to Paris to try and rescue Michelle from Wolf’s former packmates , the violent gang who call themselves the Wolves. At least, Wolf says they’re a gang, just like he says he ran away from them. Whether Wolf can be trusted remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Cinder has escaped from jail with the help of the self-proclaimed “Captain” Thorne and his stolen spaceship, and now they’re on the run from the evil Queen Levana and her Lunars who are demanding Cinder’s capture and execution, and from Emperor Kai and the Eastern Commonwealth–Kai who just wants to understand how the pretty mechanic Cinder can really be a murderous, lying Lunar and a repulsive cyborg. He also has to balance his feelings for Cinder against the demands of Queen Levana, who has offered him a choice–marry her or be invaded.

Good thing nobody ever said being a long-lost magical moon princess was easy. *************************************************************************************************

Scarlet is an excellent follow-up to Cinder. It introduces Scarlet Benoit, or Little Red Riding Hood, and tells her story of trying to rescue her grandmother from the Wolves, but it also continues Cinder’s story from the first book while showing how their stories are intertwined.

Scarlet doesn’t focus as much on Earth class structures, since Scarlet is fully human. While she was raised to be open-minded by her grandmother, and defends Cinder even before she meets her or finds out about their connection, Scarlet doesn’t have the same concerns as Cinder does. Instead we learn a little bit more about Lunar culture, which has deviated from Earth culture over the years that they have been separated, with little contact between the two worlds. Queen Levana not only rules her subjects’ behaviour but also their minds and bodies, to the point of changing her army into monsters. Wolf is caught between what he was created to be and what he could be with Scarlet.

The action is also ramped up in this story, since both Scarlet and Cinder are on the run trying to find something–Scarlet running to find her kidnapped grandmother and Cinder running away from prison and trying to discover the truth about herself and her past. With the attacks by the Wolf packs and the start of the Lunar invasion, there is a lot more violence in this book than in the last one, and a more explicit romance between Scarlet and Wolf than there was between Cinder and Kai. However, both the violence and the sex are still at about a PG rating.

Meyer has created an interesting world, and filled it with strong characters (I have to admit, a strong female protagonist, especially a self-rescuing princess, will hook me in every time). The only problem is that now I have to wait until next year when the third book, Cress, is scheduled to be released. I want to know what happens next!

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Anger clawed its way back up Scarlet’s throat and she half slammed, half dropped the stack of plates back onto the booth’s table. She ignored the startled expressions around her and shoved through the crowd, circling to the back of the bar.

The bewildered bartender watched on as Scarlet pushed some liquor bottles out of the way and climbed up onto the counter that stretched the length of the wall. Reaching up, she opened a wall panel beneath a shelf of cognac glasses and plucked out the netlink cable. All three screens went black, the palace garden and cyborg girl vanishing.

A roar of protest bellowed up around her.

Scarlet spun to face them, accidentally kicking a bottle of wine off the bar. The glass shattered on the floor, but Scarlet barely heard it as she waved the cable at the incensed crowd. “You all should have some respect! That girl’s going to be executed!”

“That girl’s a Lunar!” a woman yelled. “She should be executed!”

The sentiment was enforced with nods and someone lobbing a crust of bread at Scarlet’s shoulder. She planted both hands on her hips. “She’s only sixteen.”

A brash of arguments roared up, men and women alike clambering to their feet and screaming about Lunars and evil and that girl tried to kill a Union leader!

“Hey, hey, everyone calm down! Give Scarlet a break!” Roland yelled, his confidence bolstered by the whiskey on his breath. He held his hands out toward the jostling crowd. “We all know crazy runs in her family. First that old goose runs off, and now Scar’s defending Lunar rights!”

A parade of laughter and jeers marched past Scarlet’s ears, but were muddled by the sound of her own rushing blood. Without knowing how she’d gotten off the counter, she was suddenly halfway over the bar, bottles and glasses scattering, her fist connecting with Roland’s ear.

He yelped and spun back to face her. “What—”

“My grandma’s not crazy!” She grabbed the front of his shirt. “Is that what you told the detective? When he questioned you? Did you tell him she was crazy?”

“Of course I told him she was crazy!” he yelled back, the stench of alcohol flooding over her. She squeezed the fabric until her fists ached. “And I bet I wasn’t the only one. With the way she keeps herself holed up in that old house, talks to animals and androids like they’re people, chases folk away with a rifle—”

“One time, and he was an escort salesman!”

“I’m not one tinge surprised that Granny Benoit split her last rocket. Seems to me it’s been coming a long while.”

Scarlet shoved Roland hard with both hands. He stumbled back into Émilie, who’d been trying to get in between them. Émilie screamed and fell back onto a table in her effort to keep Roland from crushing her.

Roland regained his balance, looking like he couldn’t decide if he wanted to smirk or snarl. “Better be careful, Scar, or you’re going to end up just like the old—”

Table legs screeched against tile and then the fighter had one hand wrapped around Roland’s neck, lifting him clear off the floor.

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She wiped her damp palm on her bleached-white jumper. This was not about Carswell Thorne. This was about Queen Levana and Emperor Kai and Princess Selene. The innocent child Levana had tried to murder thirteen years ago, but who had been rescued and smuggled down to Earth. Who remained the most-wanted person in the world. Who just happened to be Cinder herself.

She’d known for less than twenty-four hours. Dr. Erland, who had known for weeks, decided to inform her that he’d run DNA tests proving her bloodline only after Queen Levana had recognized her at the annual ball and threatened to attack Earth if Cinder wasn’t thrown into jail for being an illegal Lunar emigrant.

So Dr. Erland had sneaked into her prison cell and given her a new foot (hers had fallen off on the palace steps), a state-of-the-art cyborg hand with fancy gadgets that she was still getting used to, and the biggest shock of her life. He’d then told her to escape and come meet him in Africa, like that would be no more difficult than installing a new processor on a Gard3.9.

This order, simultaneously so simple and so impossible, had given her something to focus on other than her newfound identity. Good thing too because when she dwelled on that, her entire body had a tendency to seize up, leaving her useless, and this was a bad time to be suffering from indecision. Regardless of what she would do when she got out, she was sure of one thing:not escaping meant certain death when Queen Levana came to claim her.

She peered back at the inmate again. If she had a close destination in mind, and a working spaceship at that, it could be the key to her escape.

He was still twiddling his thumbs, still obeying her command—just leave me alone. The words had been fire in her mouth when she’d said them, while her blood had boiled and her skin had burned. The sensation of overheating was a side effect of her new Lunar gift—powers that Dr. Erland had managed to unlock after a device implanted on her spine had kept her from using them for so many years. Although it still seemed like magic to her, it was really a genetic trait Lunars were born with that allowed them to control and manipulate the bioelectricity of other living creatures. They could trick people into seeing things that weren’t real or experiencing made-up emotions. They could brainwash people into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Without argument. Without resistance.

Cinder was still learning how to use this “gift” and she wasn’t entirely sure how she’d managed to control Carswell Thorne, just as she wasn’t sure how she’d managed to persuade one of the jail guards to move her to a more convenient cell. All she knew was that she’d wanted to strangle this inmate when he wouldn’t stop talking, and her Lunar gift had surged at the base of her neck, spurred on by stress and nerves. She’d lost control of it for a moment and in that breath Thorne had done precisely what she’d wanted him to do.

He’d stopped talking and left her alone.

Her guilt had been instantaneous. She didn’t know what kind of effect it had on a person, all that brain manipulation. And, more than that, she didn’t want to be one of those Lunars who took advantage of her powers just because she could. She didn’t want to be Lunar at all.

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Kai paced before the netscreen, his gut twisting with anxiety. He straightened his shirt, wrinkled from a long day, but at least he’d still been in his office when the alert had come. He believed he might never experience a full night of sleep again after this.

After what he was about to do.

In his frenzied thoughts, he couldn’t help thinking of Cinder at the ball. How happy he’d been to see her descending the stairs into the ball room. How innocently amused he’d been at her rain-drenched hair and wrinkled dress, thinking it was a fitting look for the city’s most renowned mechanic. He’d thought she must be immune to society’s whims of fashion and decorum. So comfortable in her own skin that she could come to a royal ball as the emperor’s own guest with messy hair and oil stains on her gloves and keep her head high as she did so.

That was before he knew that she’d rushed to the ball to give him a warning.

Cinder had sacrificed her own safety to plead with him not to accept the alliance. Not to marry Levana. Because after the marriage ceremony was done and she had ascended to the throne of the Eastern Commonwealth, Levana intended to kill him.

He felt sick to his stomach, knowing that Cinder was right. He knew that Levana wouldn’t hesitate to dispose of him as soon as he’d served his purpose.

But he had to stop these murders. He had to stop this war.

Cinder was not the only one capable of sacrificing herself for something greater.

Inhaling, exhaling, he faced the screen.

“Establish vidlink to Queen Levana of Luna.”

The small globe in the corner turned over only once before it brightened with the image of the Lunar queen, draped in her lacy white veil. He imagined her face old and haggard and decrepit beneath its sheath, and it didn’t help.

Kai sensed she’d been waiting for his comm. He sensed she’d been listening in on everything, and already knew precisely what his intentions were. He sensed she was smirking behind the veil.

“My dear Emperor Kaito, what a pleasant surprise. It must be quite late in New Beijing. About two hours and twenty-four minutes past midnight, is that correct?”

He swallowed his disgust as best he could and opened his hands wide to her. “Your Majesty, I beg you. Please stop this attack. Please call off your soldiers.”

The veil shifted as she listed her head to the side. “You beg me? How delightful. Do go on.”

Heat flooded his face. “Innocent people are dying—women and children, bystanders, people who haven’t done anything to you. You’ve won, and you know it. So please, end it now.”

“You say I’ve won, but what is my prize, young emperor? Have you captured the cyborg girl who started all this? She is the one you should be appealing to. If she turns herself over to me then I will call off my men. That is my offer. Do let me know when you are prepared to bargain with me. Until then, good night.”

“Wait!”

She folded her hands. “Yes?”

His pulse thrummed painfully against his temples. “I can’t give you the girl—we thought we had her, but she’s gotten away again, as I suspect you already know. But I can’t let you continue to murder innocent Earthens while we try and find another way to track her.”

“I’m afraid that’s not my problem, Your Majesty.”

“There’s something else you want, something I can offer. We both know what that is.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you speak of.”

Kai didn’t realize he was gripping his hands, practically pleading with her, until his knuckles started to ache. “If your offer of a marriage alliance still stands, I accept. Your prize for calling off your men will be the Commonwealth.” His voice broke on the final word and he clamped his jaw shut.

He waited, breathless, knowing that every second that passed meant more bloodshed on the streets of Earth.

After an agonizing silence, Levana tittered. “My dear Emperor. How could I resist such a charming proposal?”

Today I Read…Cinder

CinderToday I read Cinder by Marissa Meyer, the first book in The Lunar Chronicles.

Linh Cinder knows exactly what she is–her nasty stepmother, her cruel neighbours, and the entire Empire never let her forget. Cinder is a cyborg–someone who should have died from serious injuries, but was saved through science and the robotic parts that replace her spine, her arm, and her foot. But saved for what reason? Cyborgs aren’t citizens, they have no rights, they aren’t even considered to be human. Cinder is an ugly waste of life, a burden on her stepmother who has two real, living daughters to care for, despite the fact that it is Cinder’s skills as a mechanic that bring in the money to support their family.

But then one day Prince Kaito, the heir to the Empire, comes into her little shop in the marketplace and asks her to fix his personal android. He’s kind, and smart, and funny, and handsome–and he has no idea that Cinder isn’t human. But Cinder can’t just avoid him, even if she wanted to–the royal physician Dr. Erland thinks that she is immune to the deadly letumosis plague that has been ravaging the world for the last few years. He hopes to use her blood to create a cure, and she can’t possibly say no–her little sister Peony, the only member of her family that she loves, is sick with the plague, and Cinder would do anything to save her. Even go to the palace and risk Kai discovering her secret.  The stakes are raised even higher when Cinder finds out that Queen Levana, the wicked and despotic queen of the Moon, is plotting to marry Kai so she can kill him and invade the Earth. What’s a cyborg in love with a prince to do but crash the ball?

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Cinder is a really interesting take on the Cinderella story, and I’m particularly interested by the class system that the cyborgs are a part of. Marissa Meyer supposedly decided to make Cinderella a cyborg when she wondered what would happen if Cinderella lost a foot instead of a shoe on the stairs at the ball. Cyborgs are an artificial (pun intended) lower class, with the idea that anyone who has been injured and repaired through cyborg technology is living on borrowed time, and therefore no longer human and not deserving of any rights. This is the justification used for cyborgs being drafted as unwilling plague test subjects–that the cyborgs are repaying the extra life that they owe society for saving them the first time. Cinder, as a cyborg, is under the permanent guardianship of her stepmother, a ‘real’ human, and legally cannot own the money that she earns through her work. This kind of class system in real life is usually based on traits that you are born with, and the justification is that certain people were ‘born inferior.’ It often appears with the companion justification that oppression is for the minority’s own good, really–the reason why women needed a male guardian and could not own property until about the 1800s, why black people needed to be enslaved, why gay people do not deserve the right to marriage or children, etc. In Cinder we see the same justifications used on a new group of people, to the point that Cinder believes what she’s told–that being cyborg, something that was done to her without her express permission when she was a child, and that she can’t even remember–makes her unclean, ugly, worthless, and undeserving of love or respect. While she is angry at the way she personally is mistreated, she still internalizes all of those attitudes about cyborgs, which is demonstrated when she can’t believe that Prince Kai could ever like her if he knew what she really was. Cinder’s self-image is as a cyborg first, and as a person second.

Kai is much more fleshed out that a simple prince-shaped way out of Cinder’s terrible life. He’s not simply charming to Cinder, but funny, honest, kind, and respectful of her skills as a mechanic. While he is very conscious of his position as the prince and heir to a large empire, when he requests a favour it is distinctly a request for a favour and not an order for something that he feels entitled to. We see Kai dealing with his father’s illness, the political problems caused by his father’s death and Kai’s coronation, and how he interacts with the other world leaders, and with the evil Queen Levana. He hates and distrusts her, but he puts aside his own feelings to do what he thinks is best for the Commonwealth.

The secret of Cinder’s birth is pretty heavily foreshadowed throughout the book–anyone paying at least a little attention will quickly figure out who she is–but the secret of how she came to be a cyborg and living with the Linh family is not revealed until later in the series. It’s still a long way off until ‘and they all lived happily ever after’–for one thing, I don’t recall the prince arresting Cinderella after the ball–but I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Cinder doesn’t wait around to be rescued by the prince–she’s the one who tries to rescue him. She doesn’t entirely succeed, but she does warn him of the danger he is in, even when the warning puts her in more danger herself.

I really like this book. It will be appreciated by anyone who likes rewritten fairy tales, especially ones with a feminist bent. Since it is a YA book, it will also be good for kicking off a discussion about class systems and inequalities, as I mini-essayed above. Meyer includes some discussion questions, including some writing exercises and visual art questions, for classes and book clubs on her website here.

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Adri lifted her chin and finally acknowledged Cinder’s presence by swiping her gaze down Cinder’s filthy boots and cargo pants. “Why aren’t you at the market?”

“It closed down early today,” said Cinder, with a meaningful look at the netscreen that Adri didn’t follow. Feigning nonchalance, Cinder thrust a thumb toward the hall. “So I’ll just go get cleaned up, and then I’ll be ready for my dress fitting.”

The seamstress paused. “Another dress, Linh-ji? I did not bring material for—”

“Have you replaced the magbelt on the hover yet?”

Cinder’s smile faltered. “No. Not yet.”

“Well, none of us will be going to the ball unless that gets fixed, will we?”

Cinder stifled her irritation. They’d already had this conversation twice in the past week. “I need money to buy a new magbelt. 800 univs, at least. If income from the market wasn’t deposited directly into your account, I would have bought one by now.”

“And trust you not to spend it all on your frivolous toys?” Adri said toyswith a glare at Iko and a curl of her lip, even though Iko technically belonged to her. “Besides, I can’t afford both a magbelt and a new dress that you’ll only wear once. You’ll have to find some other way of fixing the hover or find your own gown for the ball.”

Irritation hardened in Cinder’s gut. She might have pointed out that Pearl and Peony could have been given ready-made rather than custom dresses in order to budget for Cinder’s as well. She might have pointed out that they would only wear their dresses one time too. She might have pointed out that, as she was the one doing the work, the money should have been hers to spend as she saw fit. But all arguments would come to nothing. Legally, Cinder belonged to Adri as much as the household android and so too did her money, her few possessions, even the new foot she’d just attached. Adri loved to remind her of that.

So she stomped the anger down before Adri could see a spark of rebellion.

“I may be able to offer a trade for the magbelt. I’ll check with the local shops.”

Adri sniffed. “Why don’t we trade that worthless android for it?”

Iko ducked behind Cinder’s legs.

“We wouldn’t get much for her,” said Cinder. “Nobody wants such an old model.”

“No. They don’t, do they? Perhaps I will have to sell both of you off as spare parts.” Adri reached forward and fidgeted with the unfinished hem of Pearl’s sleeve. “I don’t care how you fix the hover, just fix it before the ball—and cheaply. I don’t need that pile of junk taking up valuable parking space.”

Cinder tucked her hands into her back pockets. “Are you saying that if I fix the hover and get a dress, I can really go this year?”

Adri’s lips puckered slightly at the corners. “It will be a miracle if you can find something suitable to wear that will hide your”—her gaze dropped to Cinder’s boots—“eccentricities. But, yes. If you fix the hover, I suppose you can go to the ball.”

Peony flashed Cinder a stunned half smile, while her older sister spun on their mother. “You can’t be serious! Her? Go with us?”

Cinder pressed her shoulder into the door frame, trying to hide her disappointment from Peony. Pearl’s outrage was unnecessary. A little orange light had flickered in the corner of Cinder’s vision—Adri had not meant her promise.

“Well,” she said, attempting to look heartened. “I guess I’d better go find a magbelt then.”

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Cinder shuffled around the random tools that had collected beneath the worktable. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not going.”

“But it does matter. It’s the ball. And the prince!”

“Iko, I’m fixing an android for him. It’s not like we’re friends now.” Mentioning the prince’s android sparked a memory, and a moment later Cinder pulled the floor jack out from behind its tread. “And it doesn’t matter because Adri will never let me go.”

“She said if you fixed the hover—”

“Right. And after I fix the hover? What about Peony’s portscreen that’s always acting up? What about—” She scanned the room and spotted a rusty android tucked away in the corner. “What about that old Gard7.3?”

“What would Adri want with that old thing? She doesn’t have a garden anymore. She doesn’t even have a balcony.”

“I’m just saying that she has no real intention of letting me go. As long as she can come up with things for me to fix, my ‘chores’ will never be done.” Cinder shoved a couple jack stands into her bag, telling herself that she didn’t care. Not really.

She wouldn’t fit in at a formal ball anyway. Even if she did find dress gloves and slippers that could hide her metal monstrosities, her mousy hair would never hold a curl, and she didn’t know the first thing about makeup. She would just end up sitting off the dance floor and making fun of the girls who swooned to get Prince Kai’s attention, pretending she wasn’t jealous. Pretending it didn’t bother her.

Although she was curious about the food.

And the prince did know her now, sort of. He had been kind to her at the market. Perhaps he would ask her to dance. Out of politeness. Out of chivalry when he saw her standing alone.

The precarious fantasy crashed down around her as quickly as it had begun. It was impossible. Not worth thinking about.

She was cyborg, and she would never go to the ball.

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Kai shrugged and turned to Cinder. His eyes softened a little with a polite bow of his head. “I hope our paths will cross again.”

“Really? In that case, I guess I’ll keep following you.” She regretted the joke for half a breath before Kai laughed. A real laugh, and her chest warmed.

Then the prince reached for her hand—her cyborg hand.

Cinder tensed, terrified that he would feel the hard metal, even through her gloves, and yet even more afraid to pull away lest he find it suspicious. She mentally urged the robotic limb to go soft, to be pliant, to be human, as she watched Kai lift the hand and kiss the back of it. She held her breath, overwhelmed and embarrassed.

The prince released her, bowed—his hair falling into his eyes again—and left the room.

Cinder stood frozen, her wired nerves humming.

She heard Dr. Erland grunt in curiosity, but the door opened again as soon as it had closed.

“Gracious,” Dr. Erland muttered as Kai stepped back inside.

“Pardon me, but might I have one more brief word with Linh-mèi?”

Dr. Erland flicked his wrist toward her. “By all means.”

Kai turned to her, still in the doorway. “I know this sounds like very poor timing, but trust me when I say my motives are based on self-preservation.” He inhaled a sharp breath. “Would you consider being my personal guest at the ball?”

The floor dissolved beneath Cinder. Her mind blanked. Surely, she hadn’t heard correctly.

But he just stood, patient, and after a long moment raised both his eyebrows in a mute prompt.

“E-excuse me?”

Kai cleared his throat. Stood straighter. “I assume you are going to the ball?”

“I-I don’t know. I mean, no. No, I’m sorry, I’m not going to the ball.”

Kai drew back, confused. “Oh. Well…but…maybe you would change your mind? Because I am, you know.”

“The prince.”

“Not bragging,” he said quickly. “Just a fact.”

“I know.” She gulped. The ball. Prince Kai was asking her to the ball. But that was the night she and Iko would be running away, if the car was fixed in time. The night she would escape.

Besides, he didn’t know who, what, he was asking. If he knew the truth…how mortified would he be if anyone found out?

Kai shifted on his feet, casting a nervous glance toward the doctor.

“I-I’m sorry,” she stammered. “Thank you—I…Thank you, Your Highness. But I must respectfully decline.”

He blinked. His eyes fell as he processed her response. Then he lifted his chin and attempted a grin that was almost painfully dejected. “No, it’s all right. I understand.”

Dr. Erland leaned back against his desk. “My sincerest condolences, Your Highness. In more ways than one, it seems.”

Cinder cast him a frosty glare, but he focused his attention on cleaning his spectacles again.

Kai scratched behind his neck. “It was nice to see you again, Linh-mèi.”

She flinched at the return of the formality and made to speak, her voice catching at apologies, explanations, but the prince didn’t wait for them. The door was already shutting behind him.

She snapped her jaw shut, thoughts sparking in her head. Dr. Erland clucked his tongue, and Cinder prepared to rail at him with those budding explanations, but he turned away before she could and paced back to his seat.

“What a shame you cannot blush, Miss Linh.”

Today I Read…Midnight Snack and Other Fairy Tales

Today I read Midnight Snack and Other Fairy Tales by Diane Duane, a collection of rewritten and modernized folk and fairy tales. Midnight Snack

Since anthologies are really hard to summarize, the following story descriptions are from Diane Duane’s ebook website.

The stories in the collection include:

First Readthrough: How you do the casting for a fairy tale… and what can go wrong while you do.

The Dovrefell Cat: Your pet polar bear may sometimes be a problem… but there’s one night of the year when he shines.

…Under My Skin: Some first dates just don’t work out the way you think they will: not at all.

A Swiss Story: Lots of people from that part of the world have something from “during the War”. But not many have anything like this…

Blank Check: A most unusual client turns up at one of the world’s oldest banks with an impossible request… which nonetheless must be fulfilled.

Don’t Put That In Your Mouth, You Don’t Know Where It’s Been: A would-be worshipper of the Triple Goddess has her upcountry ritual disturbed by something very odd.

The House: A school project examining gingerbread as a structural element turns into something way more personal.

Cold Case: A cop who won’t take no for an answer meets a murder victim who’s even more stubborn than he is.

The title work, Midnight Snack: “Dad came down with the flu that week, so I had to go down to the subway and feed the unicorns…”

And completing the collection, a full-length feature film screenplay, Dead & Breakfast: a ghost story with computers.

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I’ve always been fond of fairy tales, and I love rewritten versions. The basic stories are immortal, but sometimes they get the details a little wrong. Or if not wrong, then a product of the time. As Duane asks in the foreward below, *WHY* can’t the prince rescue a prince? And why can’t the princess rescue the prince? Why can’t the princess rescue the princess? I direct fellow questioners to Diane Duane’s Middle Kingdoms novels, Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms series. Princess Leia got rescued by Han and Luke and turned right around and rescued them from the firefight in the Death Star’s prison. And Jim C. Hines’ Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White from the Princess novels do the rescuing, not the being rescued, thankyouverymuch.

Okay, off the princess-heroine soapbox. The thing about fairy tales is that they entertain, but they also teach. There is always a moral, or a lesson, or a reminder.

My favourite story in this collection is “First Readthrough.” What if you were casting a fairy tale movie, but you took the characters a lot more seriously than I’d bet Hollywood does in reality? The story consultant has a point–sometimes trust is more important than love, because love cannot flourish without trust.

“…Under My Skin” features the clever heroine, the one who remembers the old tales and uses her wits to save herself and the prince. Well, the duke in this case. And it reminds you not to drink too much on a date, just in case he turns into a giant snake. You never know.

“Blank Check” reminds you to do your duty, no matter what you think the consequences may be. When you have no good choices, then do what you’re supposed to do.

“Cold Case” is about patience, and determination to see a thing through, no matter how long it takes.

And “Dont Put That In Your Mouth, You Don’t Know Where It’s Been” is about being careful what you ask for, and kindness to those in need, even to those different from you.

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Foreword

Fairy tales have been a big deal for me all my life.
At first it was a matter of sheer enjoyment. As an early and frequent raider of the local library in the little Nassau County town where I grew up, the entire fairy tale section, with the multicolored Andrew Lang [Insert Color Here] Fairy Books, was very basic material for me, inhaled as soon as found, and often returned to over the following years—even when I hit the age when a young reader gets selfconscious about being seen in the children’s library. (Readers of So You Want to Be a Wizard will hear a familiar theme here.)
As a result, over many years the whole cultural and psychological region occupied by folklore, fairy tale and legend became far more familiar territory to me than the merely physically-real Long Island. I soaked up what we would now think of as tropes through my skin. The brothers Grimm, the Comtesse d’Aulnoy and the other great popularizers (including Lang of course) became my best buds. Long after my yearsmates had gone on to popular fiction—those of them who bothered to read, anyway—I was still deep in this material, hunting down anthologies of folkloric and fairytale material from cultures well outside of the normal European stomping grounds and steeping myself in them.
At no point during this process did I realize I had also been eagerly ingesting what would eventually prove to be a gateway drug. I can, however, clearly remember the long-ago evening when, as I was being put to bed, I asked my Mom a leading question about the fairy tale she’d just read me: “Why does it always have to be a Prince rescuing a Princess? Why can’t a Prince rescue a Prince?
Mom kind of chuckled at me and told me that when I grew up, I’d understand. But when I grew up—well, got past eighteen, anyway—and revisited that memory, I was annoyed to discover that I still didn’t understand. In fact, the omission of routine relationship-and-rescue opportunities for same-sex fairy tale characters made it clear to me that something about the local storytelling system was broken. So, locally, I set about starting to fix it. I started writing the foundation material for what would later become my first novel, The Door into Fire, around the time I went into nursing school. It did take a decade or so to get that story sorted into a shape that was worth other people spending their time to read it. But what the restatement or reworking of that particular theme taught me was that fairy tales were not only my friends, but had opened a gateway to a whole new place from which to live my life.
Those old tales matter to me in some nontraditional modes as welll.While in psychiatric nursing practice I came across a mode of psychotherapy that took as a given the idea that people adopt elements of fairy tales as life plans, and often spend decades or indeed lifetimes living them out, for good or ill, unless they find (or are shown) the spellbreaker or “magical” act necessary to bring all correctly to fruition. That particular form of therapy,transactional analysis, survived a period during which it was considered too weird or crazy to be useful, and has now been accepted into the heartland of what are now (in this psychoactive-drug-crazy era) often referred to as “the talk-related therapies”. And there are any number of pop-psych books of greater or lesser usefulness comparing patterns in modern human lives to patterns laid down in fairy tale, mythology, folklore, and other parts of the lands of archetype. The power of these old storytelling structures, introduced to (or indeed drummed into) so many of us when we’re too young to think analytically about them, is finally being acknowledged as something to be reckoned with, and something that can be turned to our own therapeutic advantage.
But I have no patience with the idea of consuming fairy tales strictly because they’re good for you, like some kind of high-fiber additive for the soul. I also find them comforting, moving, and just plain fun. This is why the bookshelves on my side of the bedroom have the Lang books racked up within easy reach, along with big fat fairy tale books in various other languages (the Swiss ones have pride of place, as readers of A Wind from the South will probably have guessed). And this is why fairy tales continue to underlie, or haunt, a surprising amount of my writing: because I love them.
Occasionally when I’ve been asked to write short fiction, the fondness for fairy tale tropes comes out particularly strongly. In this collection are some stories I’ve written over the last twenty years that reach back most clearly to folkloric roots (or in some cases, to these tales’ close cousin, the ghost story… a good theme for this time of year).
I hope you have fun with what lies ahead! Because I did.
—Diane Duane
  County Wicklow, Ireland
  October 2012