The Girls In the Picture – There Are Lights, There Are Cameras, but Is There Action?

Book Review : The Girls in the Picture

By Melanie Benjamin

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

An intimate portrait of the close friendship and powerful creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female superstars: Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. An enchanting new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife.

Hollywood, 1914. Frances Marion, a young writer desperate for a break, meets “America’s Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford, already making a name for herself both on and off the screen with her golden curls and lively spirit. Together, these two women will take the movie business by storm.

Mary Pickford becomes known as the “Queen of the Movies”—the first actor to have her name on a movie marquee, and the first to become a truly international celebrity. Mary and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, were America’s first Royal Couple, living in a home more famous that Buckingham Palace. Mary won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Talkie and was the first to put her hand and footprints in Grauman’s theater sidewalk. Her annual salary in 1919 was $625,000—at a time when women’s salaries peaked at $10 a week. Frances Marion is widely considered one of the most important female screenwriters of the 20th century, and was the first writer to win multiple Academy Awards. The close personal friendship between the two stars was closely linked to their professional collaboration and success.

This is a novel about power: the power of women during the exhilarating early years of Hollywood, and the power of forgiveness. It’s also about the imbalance of power, then and now, and the sacrifices and compromises women must make in order to succeed. And at its heart, it’s a novel about the power of female friendship. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

The Girls in the Picture is a timely book that many will be drawn to because of the current scandals in Hollywood, with Weinstein and others men. As in life and literature, there is nothing new under the sun.

My two favorite chapters were the first and the last. They were gripping! To see the degeneration of a friendship and the feelings the old women experienced in their own viewpoint. I found the first third of the book riveting. I liked learning about both Mary Pickford and Frances Marion. It was interesting to see how women could make their place in a new industry, when they couldn’t have got a toe in the door in the established avenues of business. Both of these women fought hard for what they got. It was heartbreaking to see how the men with the money tried to break Mary and Fran by rejecting their female produced movie, Poor Little Rich Girl. What is even more heartbreaking is that too many women today play into the same role of allowing those with power (both men and women) define their business relationships.

It was also interesting to see how Fran decided she needed to go and film women during WWI, compared to Mary who sold bonds with her fellow actors. Fran’s relationship with her husband was refreshing, contrasting with the regular sleaze associated with Hollywood. Even in those first years of movie making, it has been a morally bankrupt industry – not holding any values sacred.

There appear to be two reasons for the flavor of Hollywood examined in this novel. One of the flaws associated with theater is money, the lack of money, doing anything to make money and not producing what you feel is right all in the effort to make money. The other flaw shown is the glass bowl mentality of self-importance. When Mary Pickford marries Douglas Fairbanks they are idealized by the nation and Europe. Their clothes are torn by excited fans, they are mobbed and have to escape with the aid of the police. How can life seem anything but humdrum when sitting at home with a cold and a bowl of chicken soup, when there are fans who are ready to accost you just to gain a glimpse or a touch of the glamour? This is the section of the book I found tedious. I couldn’t relate to the intense desires of the fans to have a piece of Mary and I hated Mary and Doug’s attitude. Even so, it is necessary to see the decline of Mary and Fran being close to each other.

I was fairly disgusted how Fran accepted the ill treatment from the men in power. She explains how she was harassed. At times, it was as simple as a comment about her looks, and other times the men felt they had the right to touch, grope or pinch her. What is wrong with women that their response is so polite? They ignore, try to transcend and know it is expected. Why do women allow themselves to be treated like objects? Isn’t the appropriate response a slap across the face and a lawsuit? It made me crazy how Fran, the more reasonable of the two women, accepted the way men treated her because she worked in Hollywood.

I happen to know great men, who would never treat women in this way. As witnessed by the news, there are still plenty of pigs/men who feel it is their right to treat women as objects. The author certainly shows how some men feel entitled to any woman they associate with to satisfy their whims.

If I were to give out stars for my favorite parts it would have been 4 stars. The long section about Mary Pickford’s decline into self-absorption drastically reduced my interest in the novel. It was still very interesting, and even though there is immorality, abuse and the unsavory side of Hollywood, it is handled with a delicate hand and doesn’t delve into all the sordid details.  I would have liked to see more of the relationship of Mary and Fran, as the stars of the book.

 

3 out of 5 stars

3 star

  • Michelle

If you enjoy historical fiction, one of my all time favorites is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. 

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The Hundredth Queen – Sisterhood Gone Awry

Book Review : The Hundredth Queen

By Emily R. KIng

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

He wanted a warrior queen. He got a revolutionary.

As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.

But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.

Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death—and her growing affection for Deven—Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

 

I don’t like writing book reviews when I didn’t absolutely love the book, particularly when I’ve met the author. With that said, I only had one main complaint and many things I liked about The Hundredth Queen.

First here are some of the highlights:

I liked King’s writing style. It is very current and moves along at a great pace.  She includes great imagery. The plot is driven by the characters, which is my favorite kind of plot.

The characters were rich and full. Even the serving woman sho helps Kalinda at the Turquoise Palace has a backstory, that comes out in little bits rather than dumped. Kalinda, the protagonist, works through her character flaws of never feeling adequate compared to others. She learns to find her own strength. Kalinda is also a firm believer in her gods and is willing to accept direction. Deven, the main love interest, is also complex. He would have preferred to be a priest, but needed to become a soldier. He has a complicated past with his family, which is effectively used in the plot. The other characters, such as wives, sisters and concubines, are each distinct and obviously have a backstory that controls their actions. Some of the other women grow and others don’t – much like real life.  Even Rajah Tarek, the bad guy, has a reasonable backstory. I couldn’t really feel sorry for him because he was always selfish and a jerk. Nevertheless, he has motivation for his evil ways.

The lowlight:

I didn’t like the tone of the story. The gods’ will has been twisted and the nature of Tarek is particularly gross. There are little comments, such as, his gift to his new wife is the first night they spend together they will be alone. After that he will always have multiple women present for any intimate encounter. He is bloodthirsty, to watch the women kill and hurt each other. His idea of love is twisted. I felt oily reading some of the scenes. It is also gregariously violent. The women are required to kill each other, and there are some brutal scenes. Sisterhood has gone awry.

3 out of 5 stars

3 star

  • Michelle

Other recommendations:

The Queen’s Poisoner (Kingfountain series) by Jeff Wheeler

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

 

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The Curious Affair Of The Witch At Wayside Cross – Is This A Sherlockian Style Mystery?

Book Review : The Curious Affair of The Witch At Wayside Cross
From The Casebooks of Jesperson & Lane

e-book

By Lisa Tuttle

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

The paranormal answer to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Jesperson and Lane are turning the Victorian era upside down in this bewitching series from John W. Campbell Award winner Lisa Tuttle.

“Witch!” cries the young man after stumbling unexpectedly into the London address of the consulting-detective partnership of Mr. Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. He makes the startling accusation while pointing toward Miss Lane . . . then he drops dead. Thus begins the strangest case yet to land—quite literally—on the doorstep of Jesperson and Lane.

According to the coroner, Charles Manning died of a heart attack—despite being in perfect health. Could he have been struck down by a witch’s spell? The late Mr. Manning’s address book leads Jesperson and Lane to the shrieking pits of Aylmerton, an ancient archaeological site reputed to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. There they sift through the local characters, each more suspicious than the last: Manning’s associate, Felix Ott, an English folklore enthusiast; Reverend Ringer, a fierce opponent of superstition; and the Bulstrode sisters, a trio of beauties with a reputation for witchcraft.

But when an innocent child goes missing, suddenly Jesperson and Lane aren’t merely trying to solve one murder—they’re racing to prevent another. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I really like a good Sherlockian mystery, and The Curious Affair Of The Witch At Wayside Cross fits the bill. A good mystery is always intriguing because I want to solve the puzzle. I was let down on a couple of points, but there were so many good elements to override the couple of let downs.

First, I enjoyed the two detectives, both individually and how they worked together. Mr. Jesperson is the Sherlock-type character, though his discoveries are not so incredulous, which I find to be refreshing. He is also quirky, a non-conformist and can be secretive in his deductions. Miss Lane is independent, intelligent and a fully trusted partner, unlike Watson who was a foil for Sherlock. The two characters work together while solving the crime, and they are not secretly in love with one another. I also was glad to see that we could work on solving the crime, rather than worry over romantic overtures. A secondary character that I loved was the Reverend Ringer. He was more of a bash you over the head, or a fighter you would find in the boxer’s ring with his bible clenched in his teeth. His only soft spot was for allowing his wife to run the house as she saw fit.

Second, there are genuinely funny lines. One of my favorites was when Miss Lane was confronted by the murder victim, just before he died, with an accusation of ‘witch’ thrown into the room. Her response seems to be as if she has turned to look behind her because she surely couldn’t be seen as a witch. She states how she is a small woman, and no one has ever felt threatened by her presence. I was laughing my head off over that little scene. Another favorite scene was of the image of Jespersen loping out into the rain to find the missing bicycle, cheerful on all accounts in the face of the Mrs. Ringer’s irrational behavior.

Third, I loved the varying story lines. I was caught up trying to figure out how the missing baby could have anything to do with the suspected murder of Charles Manning. In a mystery I want to have elements that don’t add up perfectly so I am deluded into believing a false trail or misunderstanding the clues that become clear at a future date. The self-proclaimed witch and Felix Ott, the preservationist of the historical religion and folklore of England, are another two disparate story lines, with individuals who had interacted with Charles Manning.

I hate to give away big spoilers, so here is my attempt to be vague: I did not like the resolution for the stolen infant. It seemed like an easy out in stead of having an explanation grounded in the existing story-frame. In order for me to buy into that story line, I felt like I would need more backing, foreshadowing or evidence.

I felt like I had the mystery solved, prior to the end of the novel, however, not until near the end. It seems like a good mystery strings the reader along until about the end and so this one had a good pace with the clues and final reveal. I’m not going to tell you how Charles Manning died, but I think you will have a strong suspicion as you read into it about three quarters of the way through. The author left clues that the reader will remember, and the murder puzzle pieces fit together.

Finally, I wouldn’t have branded this book as paranormal. The witch, the eldest sister, at Wayside Cross seems more like an herbalist than having unearthly powers. She has a bird, who does seem to have special powers of observation, but there is nothing concrete that shows a result from magic that he might hold.

Unsavory subjects were handled with a delicate touch, the Victorian era setting is convincing and the characters are engaging. It is appropriate for a broad audience, from teens through adults. I would definitely recommend The Curious Affair Of The Witch At Wayside Cross. I will absolutely want to read more in this series.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • Michelle

If you like this one try:
Sorcery and Cecilia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede (plenty of magic),
Number 17 by Louis Tracy (superstitious more than magic, and an OLD book),
The Lost Book Of The Grail by Charlie Lovett (more legend than magic),
The Screaming Staircase Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud (definitely paranormal) and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (no magic, but plenty of chemistry and a fantastic characterization of a brilliant, young girl).

 

 

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Bride of a Distant Isle – Does It Remind You of a Classic Gothic Novel?

Book Review : Bride of a Distant Isle
Daughters of Hampshire

By Sandra Byrd

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Miss Annabel Ashton is a teacher at the Rogers School for Young Ladies in Winchester when she takes a brief visit to her family home, Highcliffe Hall at Milford-on-Sea. She believes her stay will be short but soon learns that she will not be returning to the safety of the school. Instead, she remains at Highcliffe, at the mercy of her cousin, Edward Everedge.

Annabel protests, but as the illegitimate daughter of a woman who died in an insane asylum, she has little say. Edward is running out of money and puts the house up for sale to avoid financial ruin. He insists that Annabel marry, promising her to a sinister, frightening man. But as the house gets packed for sale, it begins to reveal disquieting secrets. Jewelry, artifacts, and portraits mysteriously appear, suggesting that Annabel may be the true heir of Highcliffe.

She has only a few months to prove her legitimacy, perhaps with assistance from the handsome but troubled Maltese Captain Dell’Acqua. But does he have Annabel’s best interests at heart?

And then, a final, most ominous barrier to both her inheritance and her existence appears: a situation neither she nor anyone else could have expected. Will Annabel regain her life and property—and trust her heart—before it’s too late?
(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I was hesitant to start this book because it looks like a romance, and I’ve had dismal luck finding romance novels that I enjoy.  Bride of a Distant Isle was recommended to me by a librarian. I didn’t realize it was the second in a series, however, it works as a stand alone novel. I didn’t need any background information to understand what was happening and I’m delighted to report that I really liked Byrd’s novel.

Bride of a Distant Isle reads more like a modern Jane Eyre than a contemporary romance. There were no lines such as, “when I kissed him I felt a tingle of electricity run through my whole body…” which is the common line used repeatedly in clean romance novels. Hooray! I love it when a novel is original rather than a repeat of other books. It also has a Jane Eyre feel because it has other gothic elements. The eerie tone of the mental institution, the way her mother had been locked in the tower and the religious leader who served a crucial role in pointing out clues to Annabel were all gothic elements. The Captain also alludes to the fact that he isn’t as good a man as he could have been until he met Annabel. The pure woman saving the man (a Byronic hero) is another element found in gothic novels.

If you don’t feel Bride of a Distant Isle is a modern gothic novel I would love to hear your thoughts. I recommend this book highly. I am anxious to read more of Sandra Byrd’s novels.

 

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • the Mother

If you like this one I would recommend Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones (published in 1984) and The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (published in 2008).

If you want to branch into historical novels with magic try Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede (published in 1988) and The Kingfountain series by Jeff Wheeler, beginning with The Queen’s Poisoner (published in 2016).

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Woven – Will It Have You In Stitches?

Book Review : Woven

By Michael Jensen & David Powers King

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Two unlikely allies must journey across a kingdom in the hopes of thwarting death itself.

All his life, Nels has wanted to be a knight of the kingdom of Avërand. Tall and strong, and with a knack for helping those in need, the people of his sleepy little village have even taken to calling him the Knight of Cobblestown.

But that was before Nels died, murdered outside his home by a mysterious figure.

Now the young hero has awoken as a ghost, invisible to all around him save one person—his only hope for understanding what happened to him—the kingdom’s heir, Princess Tyra. At first the spoiled royal wants nothing to do with Nels, but as the mystery of his death unravels, the two find themselves linked by a secret, and an enemy who could be hiding behind any face.

Nels and Tyra have no choice but to abscond from the castle, charting a hidden world of tangled magic and forlorn phantoms. They must seek out an ancient needle with the power to mend what has been torn, and they have to move fast. Because soon Nels will disappear forever.  (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

When I started reading Woven I knew Nels was going to have to die because of the summary. The big problem was that I really liked Nels, he was a great guy and didn’t deserve to die. I was so discouraged that he would have to become a ghost that I stopped reading it for a month, then forced myself to pick it up again.

I’m so glad I did force myself to pick it up. Nels was a fun ghost and pestered the princess. Warning of a big spoiler alert……Do you remember in the Princess Bride when Wesley is only mostly dead and not dead dead. Well, that same philosophy is used here. Nels is only mostly dead. Yay!

Another reason I enjoyed Woven was because Tyra was a brat. She was beautiful and rich and completely rude. It seemed just that she was the only one who could see Nels because she had treated him poorly at the fair. Rather karma like. Not only could she see him, but she ended up seeing herself as he saw her. It was a great wake-up call for her to do a little soul searching. It turned out she wasn’t just a brat, but was scared and didn’t grow up with the love of her father. He really wasn’t the king he should have been. Her foibles made her much more interesting.

The world was beautifully crafted. I loved how people could be basted together, how a needle could mend the world and thimbles could have special powers. It is a simple idea to incorporate sewing with magic, but the result was more complex and richer than the initial idea. I absolutely loved the world.

Ironically, the novel I read prior to Woven had a gypsy population too Woven’s gypsies are maligned by other nations, are fairly nomadic and displaced. Their situation is wrapped up to a better conclusion with the efforts of another ghost. I enjoyed the rich traditions and images the gypsies brought to Woven.

I would recommend Woven. It seems appropriate for an older middle grade book as well as a young – young adult book, about ages 10-15 would be my guess for the primary target audience. I laughed over the characters and their situations. In fact, you could say it had me in stitches.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • the Mother

If you like this one I would recommend The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley for an older novel, Happenstance Found by P.W. Catanese and The Relic Master series by Catherine Fisher.

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Blood Rose Rebellion – Magic For the Elite or the Masses?

Book Review : Blood Rose Rebellion

By Rosalyn Eves

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I was surprised when I started reading to see that the novel was written in first person. I wondered how I would like it without having the omniscient voice. After the first few pages I forgot that I was reading a first person POV and was completely engrossed.

I loved the setting, corresponding to pre-WWI in our universe. The tension building through the countries of Hungry and England felt accurate. The Romani (gypsy) people have been maligned for years and it became more pronounced during the wars.

One of the most important elements in a novel are the characters. The protagonist is Anna Arden, who is faced with a dilemma that she doesn’t appear to have magic like the others in Luminate society. She is an outcast in society, doesn’t fit in with the other classes and is searching for meaning in her life. Anna starts on a daring plan to try to learn magic in another way, an unauthorized path working through the Romani. Ultimately, Anna has to make her own choice to either free those trapped in the Luminate spell or allow the existing power structure to remain intact.

Another primary character is Gabor, who is a Romani young man who misjudges Anna because she is from the Luminate class of society. Gabor is also rejected by those in his Romani heritage; they cannot understand why he wants something more for his life. He is willing to be vulnerable and express his feelings for Anna, which surprises her because others in her social sphere hide their true intent.

I also was particularly fond of Anna’s cousins, both Matyas and Noemi. Matyas appears to be a cad, but also has a strong set of ethics when dealing with others. Noemi is initially very prickly, she is practically minded and builds a friendship with Anna. The grandmother is also full of a few surprises. Isn’t it true, that often the younger generation doesn’t recognize the skills of the older generation and doesn’t really know them? I really appreciated the grandmother’s wisdom and understanding the pain she had suffered from her choices.

As is true for many modern books, there are some violent scenes. I was concerned how the final scene would play out. It could have become very gruesome, however, I thought the author handled the scene very well. I also felt like the world was open to new possibilities when Anna and her friends joined one another after the war. It will be very interesting to see where Eves moves with the second book. I would recommend this book!

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • the Mother

If you like this one I would recommend The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley for an older novel, The Gray Wolf Throne series by Cinda William Chima for something new, and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman if you need a few dragons.

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The Princess and the Hound – A Fairy Tale With Psychological Questions

Book Review : The Princess and the Hound

By Mette Ivie Harrison

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

     He is a prince, heir to a kingdom threatened on all sides, possessor of the animal magic, which is forbidden by death in the land he’ll rule.
She is a princess from a rival kingdom, the daughter her father never wanted, isolated from true human friendship but inseparable from her hound.
Though they think they have little in common, each possesses a secret that must be hidden at all costs. Proud, stubborn, bound to marry for the good of their kingdoms, this prince and princess will steal your heart, but will they fall in love?
  (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

 The Princess and the Hound had an old fairy tale quality, while still being completely original. Though inspired by Beauty and the Beast, the reader would easily be able to enjoy the book with out any background checks for information.

One of the things I liked the most was the complexity of the two main characters. Prince George, is young and inexperienced to take on the role of the king. He has experienced a difficult childhood, primarily because of the loss of his mother. His father didn’t know how to be the kind of father George needed, though he wasn’t distant to be cruel. George has also been set aside by others in the nobility, mocked and never befriended. Finally, he has animal magic – is it a blessing or a curse. Regardless, it has changed how he interacts with others.

Beatrice, has also had a difficult childhood. Her father, King Helm, has intentionally belittled her because she wasn’t a son to be his heir. She was unexpectedly befriended by the hound, Marit, who became closer than a normal companion. Because of how she has been treated she is fearful to allow George into her tight-knit world.  George is the one who recognizes the similarities they have experienced, though through different means.

I don’t want to add any big spoilers, but I was interested in Dr. Garn. I was curious to his motivations. He was very odd, and yet the king trusted him. He had been able to move through the layers that insulate a king from the people, however, even the trusted servants had very little interaction with the doctor. Nobody felt like Prince George was in the right to be distrustful. He even doubted himself. I liked how Dr. Garn showed the reader other sides of the personalities of different characters.

The world building, and character building for Prince George felt a little slow. Once George has agreed to marry Beatrice the story takes off at a great pace. I enjoyed seeing how George approaches problems; he could have been a psychologist in a different world. I would also be intrigued to hear what others’ thoughts were on the relationship between Beatrice and Marit….. I thought Harrison had a clever approach for George to fall in love.

I enjoyed this book and it is appropriate for a broad audience. The psychology of a fairy tale was to teach a principal or a fear to children. What lesson is taught in this story? Perhaps, the moral lesson of doing the right thing, even when its hard. Would it be a good example of thinking through problems of multiple personality disorder. For one thing, think of how the two kings, Davit and Helm, represent two polar opposites, but still distance themselves from their only child. Like many fairy tales, there is romance at the end of the tale. It was a satisfying experience.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • the Mother

If you like this one try some of the older books of retold fairy tales, such as, Beauty by Robin McKinley and Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia Wrede. A modern tale to try is Cinder by  Marissa Meyer and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.

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