An Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

I’ve mentioned before how much I love fairy-tales/myths re-tellings, there’s something fascinating about seeing a new angle on a classic story we already know, and I love to discover new books with a different view.

This is a chart created by the cleverbots at EpidReads, who compiled a list of books and grouped them by similarities.

You can find the full chart list here by epicreads – it’s not a complete list of what’s out there of course, but it’s a decent place to start!

Have you read any of these? I’ve added a few of these to my book list already!

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Harlequin Oddities Found About Town: Music Cassettes and VHS Video Tapes

Isn’t it amazing how much of a relic these things are these days? Twenty years ago, VHS and music cassettes were a normal craze; where winding up cassette tapes with pencils and the magic of recording TV shows on black video tapes were our versions of the iPads and mobiles of today. Oh, except we had funkier, bigger hair and questionable bumbags.

I saw these in a local shop a few days ago, and had to take a sneaky shot (the shop-owner didn’t realise I’m just trying to be “ironic” and also probably doesn’t read my blog, so I had to be sneaky about it). It made me smile because we used to stalk this shop every weekend when I was a child to rent out the latest video to watch, and which was a big event in our house because it meant we got to pick something WE wanted to watch. Even though there wasn’t much to pick from, the films weren’t very new and we usually had to pick from Rambo, E.T. or Hellraiser (or something of the same calibre), it was still a thrilling evening for us to pay £1 (or £2 for the weekend!) to borrow a video tape.

These days the shop seems to just display them for fun (plus the layers of dust kind of shows that it’s been a while since anyone knew what to do with them), and they’re all Bollywood and Tollywood tapes, which are kind of redundant now that the big world of The Internet has shown us how to watch these.

Still, they’re a nice reminder of the simpler things in our childhood, and the terrible films we used to watch.

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Superman: True Brit

Superman: True Brit is a silly, tongue-in-cheek satire about what life would have been like for Superman if he landed in Britain instead of the USA to live the American Dream. This book is a part of a series of ‘Elseworld comics which take DC Comics superheroes and takes characters out of their normal settings to theorise their alternative lives (for example, there’s another Superman novel called ‘Red Son’ about Superman landing in Ukraine to become U.S.S.R’s hero!)

Superman: True Brit is more of  a silly, light-hearted version of the story, with puns and plenty of poking of fun at the old British boys – although that’s to be expected with a graphic novel co-authored by the writers from Monty Python! So here’s a quick review-slash-recap of the graphic novel (*be warned, there’s spoilers ahead!*), I enjoyed reading this graphic novel simply because the idea was pretty funny, and it has crossed my mind a few times that Superman may have been a different person in a different country, rather than the all-American boy.

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So we start off with an alien baby landing – in all places – in the heart of the British Empire (or not quite), Weston-super-Mare, where he is found and brought up as Colin Clark; taught to mind his manners, suppress his powers and not scare the farm animals.

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His adoptive parents play their part, satirising middle-class British values (perhaps in the 1900’s, can’t say society is like this today!) with a social-niceties, paranoia about the neighbours and reminders to always wear clean underwear.

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In the meantime, Colin meets his girl-crush, Louisa Layne-Ferret, a Page 3 girl and ambitious journalist (with a convenient resemblance to her American cousin Lois Lane, who we also meet later on!), and has a fe20131117_125344w mishaps at school (such as playing cricket a little too fiercely and impaling a school-fellow with a cricket bat. Oh dear).

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Soon after (and inevitably), Colin is unable to suppress his powers and finds an outlet for them instead – in his alter-ego, Super Man, dressed in disguise to appease his parents while saving the country from disasters.

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Soon however, he is set three challenges by the skeptic public and his less-adoring fans – which of course turn out to be typical British complaints (and also satirical comments about British society!) The first task turns out to be to make trains run on time – Superman solves this by speeding up the trains and introducing the train staff to schedules (“Radical thinking!”)

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The second task turns out to be to reduce waiting times for hip operations, which Superman ‘solves’ by advising surgeons to play less gold and work more. Of course.

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The third and last task is challenging Superman to raise the quality of BBC programmes – which he resolves by scaring BBC executives into less ‘dumbing-down’ of television and more shows for  under-30s age gap.

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Despite all of this, poor Superman falls into more trouble, with the Bat Man out to get him (the previous victim of the cricket bat incident), the editor of the Daily Star out to defame him, and worst of all, his parents trying to run away from the embarrassment of their son being Superman.

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On top of this is the news that the ‘Three Impossible Tasks’ that he apparently succeeded in have had some negative results, meaning that Superman has to pay fines, gets further bad publicity, and his love life is not working out with Louisa quite how he wanted it.

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Eventually though (although slightly predictably, and in a very Monty-Python-ish way!), there’s a happy ending to be had, and Colin Clark reveals himself as Superman to avoid being black-mailed, and urges the public to stop supporting both the Bat-Man and the slimy editor of the Superman-hating newspaper. I loved this comment at the end, where Colin resolves to change his name – to Kent Clark.

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And Superman goes back full circle to say he is emigrating to the US for new opportunities (not before some references to The Rutles and a few digs at British society), changing his British-flag costume for a more recognisable one, complete with a Christopher Reeves-ish hair-curl.

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Overall, this graphic novel was certainly a lot less serious than the other DC comics I have read – and certainly, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. I liked the humour of it, but found it a little clichéd at times when it came to British traditions (I can’t help but wonder whether Americans still view us British at tea-and-crumpets-with-the-Queen types, although I did like the depiction of Queen Elizabeth in wellies and a crown!)

This is certainly something for Superman fans to read, especially if they want to get away from the dark tales that Superman sometimes comes across (and even Batman fans, which has plenty of dark humour and depressing stories!) Although this may not be to everyone’s liking, and some may find this a little patronising, it’s good for a few chuckles, and it certainly gives a good send-up of British media and culture.

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways

I couldn’t decide which pictures to use for this challenge, but settled on these ones because Bournemouth and Durdle’s Door are one of my favourite places in England!

Here’s one picture which I loved, that I took of a more panoramic view of the beautiful Durdle’s Door and the surrounding waters:
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This is a close-up of the same landmark, with a focus on the pebbles and sand, which feels a bit more quirky to me, and shows how big ‘Durdle’s Door’ is.

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And here are both images side by side – which really illustrates how one scene or object can be photographed in several different ways and angles, and still look unique! Definitely something to try for yourself, I say – and maybe to play around with sizes and colours too, perhaps!

Which angles do you prefer? I think I like the landscape, panoramic style one : )

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgia is an island

This week’s Weekly Challenge is ‘Nostalgic‘, which for me, brings to mind the best places I have been to, and the suprising little secrets they hold. They say the past is another country, but for me it’s also an island – isolated perhaps by the rose-tinted glasses we wear when we look back – but also untainted because of the good memories we hold, particularly when it comes to places which change (or don’t!) as time goes on.

One of these places is undoubtably the wonderful Cornwall, which I visited with my family a couple of years ago, and which I have never forgotten. (One of) the most memorably places which we visited was St Michael’s Mount, which was a small island that has a long path to walk along to get there – but you have to be quick, otherwise the tide comes in on the way back! I think everyone’s favourite memory that day was dashing along the path in the evening, holding their pants/dress/shoes up and splashing their way back to the shore, before we could get stranded (and would have to take the boat back).

We didn’t get to explore the island for long, because we arrived mid-day and only managed to walk around for an hour or so, but it’s definitely on my to-visit list when we come back – this time we’ll bring wellies and a paddling boat!

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Harlequin Oddities Found About Town: No Begging Please, We’re English

It’s the time of the year, the rush for shopping and travelling around on the underground sometimes needs some livening up. Enter the buskers and the underground musicians, and boy do they come in all shapes and sounds. Only yesterday I saw a musician playing on tablas while another one was rolling around on the floor riffing on his keyboard. In the midst of all this, there is some (quality) control required to ensure that people are earning their keep, rather than shamelessly just fleecing people for their money. This is where this sign comes in to politely request any undesirables to flee from the nice, shiny undergrounds, get a job and cut that hair dagnabbit. Okay maybe the last one is just vaguely insinuated rather than told outright. The British Gov’nors have decreed that there shall be no begging. And no begging there was on the underground. Well, until the plaques all fall off from the abuse they get anyway, then it’s a free for all:

“You’ve got to pick-a-pocket or twooooo ….”

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Even Batman needs to mind his Ps and Qs

Saw this in a Batman comic –I mean graphic novel– book I was reading yesterday and thought it was hilarious.( Yes I’m a grown woman who still read comic books, don’t you judge me), I love finding little silly things like this in serious scenes (Batman’s trying to find out some information about his ex-protege who was killed in this scene), and I just thought this whole bit was just cute.

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Image taken from ‘Batman: War Games‘ by DC Comics

Fairy Tales & Long Tails: The Top 10 Fairy Tale Re-Tellings

I’m a big fan of re-tellings of fairy tales, the more detailed and historically accurate the better, particularly if they’re set in a specific period of history or place (or even in a sci-fi type of setting which doesn’t exist in normal history!)

I’ve grown up with Grimms fairy tales and Hans Christian Anderson short stories and fairy tales, and while I devoured them as a young child (the grislier the story, the better!), it always left me wanting a bit more. What happened to the servant-girl-turned-princess after she married the prince? Did she get on with her in-laws? Did she have to learn to cook and manage the household, or did she get bored? Why was it that the heroine was always beautiful, charming, slim and easy to befriend? What happened to the plain girls, or the ones that didn’t have fairy godmothers? What if the wandering princess who ran away didn’t meet a friendly passer-by, and ran into someone with darker intentions, or she didn’t end up making friends with generous, understanding animals and get food from them?

These days, of course, such stories aren’t enough. I’m always looking for stories, which look beyond the original fairy tales, which have more to them than relying on the beauty of the heroine to save her, or the princely-ness of the hero to get him along and defeat the dragon. My biggest gripe, I think, is the fact that the hero and heroine always get married the next day after their troubles are over, and live ‘happily ever after’ – what exactly constitutes a happy ending? Having lots of gold and wearing pretty dresses to balls? Having children who were royal and then retiring to old age where they would reminisce over their adventures of youth? Or even just surviving to a certain age with all your limbs intact. A lot of the fairy tales we read as youngster glossed over these parts, making sure that the story ended when the hero got his gal.

For me, it isn’t always the case – which is why I turn to fairy tale re-tellings to see these characters fleshed out and their lives developed to something more credible.

That’s not to discredit fairy tales at all, I certainly do see the appeal of an easy story, where prince-meets-girl, has a dilemma of some sorts and then eventually it all ends in marriage (this is starting to sound more and more like an Asian Star Plus drama), and there’s a magic to them which is unique; but in this day and age I think we question a lot of these stories, and it’s easy then, to see why re-tellings of fairy tales are popular – to acquaint us with the heroes and their flaws more fully, and to immerse ourselves in a fairy tale in all it’s details.

So here are my Top Ten fairy-tales retold, by various authors, although it’s by no mean conclusive (I’m reading one at the moment!) – and there’s certainly more I wanted to add to the list but couldn’t!

10. Castle in the Air – Diana Wynne Jones
I’m not sure how much this fits into the category of ‘fairy tales’ or typical fantasy stories, but Diana Wynne Jones has always been one of my favourite authors, because of her wacky, wonderful storylines and her mix of sci-fi, fantasy, quirky humour and odd brand of romance which has always utterly appealed to me. This is re-telling of sorts, of the tale of Aladdin and his quest to marry the princess he is in love with – but of course, all sorts go wrong, and there are plenty of other wizards, djinns, witches and magicked cats thrown into the mix to make the plot all the more complex. I loved this book, and although it was a written as a sort-of sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle (which I also loved!), Castle in the Air has its own unique style which is something I really think would appeal to readers who aren’t interested in traditional fairy tales – particularly because of the way the story has a quirky way of being able to relate to us in an ordinary way too.

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9. Beauty – Robin McKlinley
I’ve read a couple of versions of Beauty and the Beast, but this one appealed to me less because of the storyline, and more because of the atmosphere it creates. Although it’s quite a solemn story, the characters created are endearing, and McKinley is one of my favourite fairy tale-retellers because of her ability to make ordinary doings interesting. In this story, Beauty is not so beautiful (although her two sisters are), and their fortunes are not so fortunate, as their father’s business is ruined and they are forced to move to the countryside to survive. From there the story begins, where Beauty’s father strikes a deal with the Beast to save his life, and where there’s always a suggestion of magic which is never quite revealed til the end.

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8. Wildwood Dancing – Juliet Marillier
I loved this story as a child – twelve princess sisters go dancing every night, all night, so that every morning their slippers would be worn out, much to the consternation of their father who never figures out why – until he sets a task that any man who manages to find out will be rewarded with marriage to one of the daughters (plus the kingdom). Juliet Marillier is another of my absolute favourite authors, one who captures a period beautifully and puts in a lot of research into her books so that the detail is just amazing. Wildwood Dancing is set in 16th Century Transylvania, and is based on just five sisters who go dancing every night – but it is here that it gets more eerie. The ‘Other Kingdom’ they visit every night has more than just fairy folk, there’s a hint of ‘Night’ people, vampires, and the risk of losing one’s self. Add that to the threat of forced marriages to overbearing cousins, and the idea of ‘wildwood dancing’ becomes less innocent and merry, and instead more about the sisters’ survival and independence. A great read, and one of Marillier’s best.

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7. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister – Gregory Maguire
I love Gregory Maguire’s imagination and the way he twists a traditional story to make you look at it from a completely different angle – and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is no different. Maguire sets this story during the ‘tulip mania’ era in the 1600s, where the two ‘ugly’ sisters and their toughened mother Margareuthe have fled the witch claims of England to Netherland to find their fortune among the buying and selling of valuable tulip bulbs. Meeting the spoiled Clara and her rich parents, Margareuthe quickly sets to finding a place in the household, and moving upwards from there amidst a backdrop of art, religion and the idea of beauty – which is ambiguous, complex, and certainly doesn’t tell us who the heroine is in this whole tale.

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6. Deerskin – Robin McKinley
This is one of the darker stories I’ve read, and certainly it is a brave one. I remember reading this story as a young child (and an African version of it as well!), of a widowed King who cannot find anyone to match his late wife’s beauty – and instead decides to marry his daughter. While in the original fairy tale the horrified princess escapes, meets a prince and lives happily ever after, in McKinley’s tale, there are a lot darker events which take place which change the heroine’s life forever. McKinley’s writing style is almost ethereal here, and it’s certainly a brave topic she covers – rather than writing about balls, riches and beauty, she writes about surviving rape, losing family, and looking for acceptance in adversity. And I think she succeeds well in this novel, creating a character who is truly admirable and shows the real meaning of being a princess, and of the strength it takes to rebuild yourself have faith in yourself. A very moving book, although heart-breaking in places too.

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5. Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine
This is probably the most recent fairy tale re-telling that I read, and I really liked the quirky, funny tone of it, which tells the story of a girl whose fairy-tale gift at birth forces her to be obedient, amongst a land of ogres, fairies and gnomes. Which is not the best gift, seeing as Ella finds herself being forced to obey commands from others who don’t always have her best interests at heart. Although this is just a loosely based on the story of Cinderella and has its own side tangent, it’s still a good story in itself (I preferred this much more over the film too!), and has plenty of ways of showing the good side of fairy tale creatures and magic.

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4. Revolting Rhymes – Roald Dahl
I have no idea if this counts, but I’ll add it in because Roald Dahl is another favourite author, and I LOVE wacky, satirical takes on any story, which Dahl spins perfectly. These are a collection of short poems which tell classic fairy tales in a completely opposite way (Cinderella runs away with a nice man who makes jam, for example), in true Roald Dahl style, with brilliant Quentin Blake illustrations. If you like Dahl’s work, you will probably already have read this.

My favourite line is probably from the Red Riding Hood story:

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang, bang, bang, she shoots him dead.

Classic stuff. Read the poems online here, or otherwise at your local bookstore/library/nephew’s house, you cheapskates.

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3. Spindle’s End – Robin McKinley
This story is one which I’ve read and re-read quite a few times, because I loved the beautifully captured characters in the story. Sleeping Beauty has always been a story which intrigued me as a child, partly because of the scary evil fairy and also partly because of the whole intrigue of a fairy hidden away to save her life. In this story, she is hidden away in a small town, “as safe as ordinariness can make her”, and turns into everything but a typical princess – she hates singing, dancing or needle-work and loves following the blacksmith around, befriending animals and has short hair – exactly what makes a loveable, clever and even brave character. There’s a great twist to the tale at the end, which also adds a whole new depth to the story and makes it even more brilliant for me. This was the first book I read by McKinley, and it’s also my favourite of  hers, since it’s one she really makes her own in an original way.

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2. Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan
I absolutely love this story, and it was a very close contender for the number one spot, simply because of how much I liked this story about the two sisters, Snow White and Rose Red. It’s not an easy read, and one which does not shy away from difficult topics like rape, incest and violence, yet does so in a very classy way which focuses the story on its magic, and the amazing characters. This was a really strong feminist story, in my view, which teaches about women being independent and strong despite difficult circumstances, and also the idea of love and family prevailing over all. I’ve recommended this book to (and practically forced it onto) several friends and sisters, to get them to be as enthralled as I was with this book, partly because reading it made  me realise why I loved reading and fairy tales so much.

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1. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
This is probably the book which I read as a young teen and which captured my heart with fairy re-telling, and I’ve never looked back since. This story is based on a classic one about a sister and her six brothers (although various stories have more brothers or don’t involve swans) who are targeted by their evil stepmother, the brothers turned into swans and the sister chased away. Marillier completely develops this story so that it is set in old-time Ireland, where the protagonist is Sorcha, only daughter of a Gaelic chieftain who has to fight for her brother’s lives when they are endangered. There is plenty of subtle magic, romance and eeriness in this novel, and also plenty of flaws in each character – which is made all the more readable by the amazing research and detail put in by Marillier about this period. While this follows the lines of a traditional fairy tale, it is so much more than this – there is a lot of emphasis on the cruelty of humans and well as their love, and the fact that Sorcha is a young girl who is at a turning point of her life which changes her life. I think I related to this as a teen because her character is a ruly, grubby tomboy at first, something which girls can imagine rather than being royal princesses – and it is this which made her more realistic. This is another story I’ve been trying to force on others for years, and which I won’t stop recommending because of how amazing it is.

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There’s lots more books to check out which re-tell fairy tales (I haven’t even read a lot of these, but they’re all on my reading list!) – they all have different takes on the fairy tales and a lot of these have had good reviews.
  • White as Snow – Tanith Lee
  • Rose Daughter – Robin McKinley
  • Mirror Mirror – Gregory Maguire
  • Jane Yolen – Briar Rose
  • Strands of Bronze and Gold – Jane Nickerson
  • Zel – Donna Jo Napoli
  • Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice (be warned, this is more 18-rated!)
  • Rose Daughter – Robin McKinley
  • Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow – Jessica Day George
  • Beauty Sleep: A Retelling of “Sleeping Beauty”- by Cameron Dokey
  • Wicked – Gregory Maguire
  • East – by Edith Pattou
  • A Curse Dark As Gold – Elizabeth C. Bunce
  • Enchantment – Orson Scott Card
  • Goose Girl – Shannon Hale
  • A Kiss in Tim – Alex Flinn
  • Golden – Cameron Doke

Please feel free to tell me about any you’ve read that you would recommend!

Sleeping Beauty re-written: An animal-loving, magical tomboy

A wondrous future lies before you – you, the destined hero of a charming fairy tale come true. And in yonder topmost tower, dreaming of her true love, the Princess Aurora! – Sleeping Beauty, Disney

Robin McKinley’s Spindle End is one of those books which makes you want to read everything written by the author, simply because of how much she makes you fall in love with the characters, the heart-warming storyline, and the curious magical-ness of it all. Spindle’s End brings to life the story of Sleeping Beauty, in a kingdom set where magic is so thick it “settles like chalk-dust everywhere”, and it’s an ordinary occurrence to ‘de-magick’ your kettles of magic, to stop your bread turning into larks, your clothes from running away, where it is illegal to have dealings with fish, and where fairies make an honest living in local villages. And yet the story has a traditional, just King and Queen who strive for a child, and after many years, manage to have a beautiful baby girl, celebrating the occasion with a grand ‘Name-Day’, inviting twenty-one (not three, Disney!) fairies to bestow gifts.

And gifts are bestowed, must to the disgust of one of the main characters, young fairy Katriona, who listens to “pearly teeth”, ‘golden hair” and “a sweet singing voice” being given, until the inevitable, a jealous evil fairy, here named Pernicia, gate-crashes with her own gift, a dangerous sleep for the newborn when she turns twenty-one. It is here that the life of the novel really begins, in the race to protect the Princess, she is smuggled away and raised by Kat in a secret life, “as safe as ordinariness can make her.”

Rosie, as she is lovingly named, becomes a creature to test her adoptive family as well as capture their hearts: she may have a voice like a bell, but it depends on how loud and robust the bell is; she may have a talent for dancing, but you’d have to convince her to dance first, and she may have golden ringlets like corn, but it’s difficult to see the curls after she chops all her hair off. Rosie, then, becomes a feminist in her own right, insisting she is not ‘pretty’ but intelligent, she doesn’t need to wear dresses when she can run after animals in breeches, and insisting that she will have her own career rather than settle down. Deeply entrenched in a lifestyle of her magic-using ‘Aunts’ and her family of animals and male friends, Rosie goes against every archetype of being a Princess, perhaps so because she remains blissfully ignorant of her true identity.

Weaving together the practicalities of magic, the complications of growing older, and the ever-questionable concept of ‘happily-ever-after’, McKinley shows how appearances are not always what they seem. Always through the novel is the underlying threat of the malevolent Pernicia, always searching and always threatening to change their fragile lifestyle, with McKinley creating some tense atmospheric scenes which really show the strengths of characters, putting to test their love for each other.

Rosie, remains, at the heart of all this, an ordinary, confused young woman, constantly re-shaping her identity, her perceptions of family, and the idea of destiny and grand love. While at the forefront, she remains an unusual character who refuses to conform to societal values of what it is to be a young woman, the vestiges of  fairy-tale era still remain – we see how family can mean different things to different people, how duty is perceived, and above all, the idea of Good being expected to triumph over Evil.

This is a novel which makes you fall in love with Rosie, as a Princess, as an unruly child, and as a brave, old-style heroine – and it is not the idea of being a singing, pearly-teethed young woman who remains, but an ordinary (and ironically magical) sister, daughter and fierce friend, who fights for her family and friends as much as she tries to determine her own fate. A recommended book for all, especially if you like fairy-tales with a bit of a kick in them.

Musical London at Denmark Street, the “British Tin Pan Alley”

“I wish they’d had electric guitars in cotton fields back in the good old days. A whole lot of things would’ve been straightened out.” – Jimi Hendrix

Denmark Street at the heart of London is famous for its musical shops, and boasts many historic moments there (with artists such as Jimi Hendrix and  The Rolling Stones recording their first records there). On my recent visit to the Denmark Street, I felt as if it is still buzzing with potential history to be made: it may be just a short alleyway tucked away (unless you know where to go), but it’s still a fairly populated spot, with patrons of all ages, races and nationalities. I met an Australian riffing on the guitars that he was meant to be selling, and European students tapping their feet along to “Under the Bridge”, while only a few doors down the saxphone shop owner proudly and carefully polished his wares to their shining glory. From weathered vintage instruments to brand sparkling new dreams just waiting to happen, this is a place to visit whether you are a music lover or not.