January 9, 2018

Mini Theme: A Night at the Ball

I went on a Cinderella kick in December. I guess I needed the escape of glass slippers and fairy tale endings, with all the fire-related stress going on in my life. It fit the bill. Most of these were in the young adult section of the library.

Of the 4, I don't know that there was a particular stand-out. I enjoyed them, but haven't purchased any of them for my home collection. Actually, reading these got me thinking of Cinderella movies I have enjoyed. "Ever After," with Drew Barrymore, is one of my all-time favorites. Speaking of which, I have yet to see the new Disney version! I guess it's not even really new anymore. Do you have a favorite movie on this theme?

I quite enjoy fairy tale retellings, and it seems there are more cropping up every year, so I will no doubt revisit this theme again at some point. In the meantime, here are 4 to try for Cinderella fans.

 Cinderella (Faerie Tale Collection), by Jenni James

3 stars: Friendship becomes romance.

Eleanoria Woodston mostly tries not to think about how her life has changed since her beloved father died. Her stepmother, Lady Dashlund, rules the home with an iron hand, with Ella receiving the brunt of it. She now lives in the attic, instead of her own bedroom, and she does all the chores. Her stepsisters get to wear all the finery and are the recipients of Ella's hard work. Even her beloved horse, Sunshine, was sold to help pay the debts.

Prince Anthony has been roped into paying a formal visit to the Dashlund household, along with his friend Lord Gavenston. On the way there, he spots a woman on the grounds, whom he is certain is Eleanoria--a friend and rival from his childhood, when he used to sneak out of the castle and enter into local horse races. It can't be her, though. She's is dressed as a servant; she, whose father was one of the wealthiest merchants in the kingdom. Prince Anthony decides he must find out what is going on, so he once again dons the old ruse and nickname "John" and leaves Lord Gavenston to make his way on his own with the Dashlund sisters.

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This version stayed fairly close to the original. What I liked about it, though, was that Ella and the Prince renewed their friendship long before the ball. The Prince got a lot more backstory, which was nice. He was more than a cardboard cutout. In this one, the King was dying, and he had the weight of that on his shoulders.

That being said, there was a part that tended toward insta-love. It had been 3 days (I think) since Ella and Anthony had renewed their acquaintance, and she started going on about all that she loved about him, naming each facial feature in turn (yes, it was awkward even reading about it.) Then at the end, she said something about how she didn't want him to take it wrong, because she knew they were just friends. Um...what?  Maybe that was just evidence of her own confusion. Anyway, they continued to meet for several more months before really declaring undying devotion to one another.

Content: Clean.

Ella, by Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

3 stars: Ella is resourceful and has purpose behind her obedience.

Ella Blakely works as a servant in her own home, ever since the death of her beloved father Henry. She has chosen to stay, despite the abuse from her stemother Victoria, and stepsisters Cecilia and Mabel, because of a promise to her father on his deathbed--that she would take care of them. She knows that he had no idea how bad things would get, but she still honors the promise and the man. She also stays because Ashfield is her home and has been in the family for generations. She will not leave, and by so doing, leave Ashfield in Victoria's clutches to do with as she chooses.

As it is, they are barely getting by. Ella somehow manages to scrape together food from the eggs and milk their 2 chickens and 1 cow give, but they are in desperate straits. Victoria has already sold off anything of value in the home, but instead of using the money to buy food or pay for upkeep, she invariably uses it to buy dresses for her daughters, or other trappings to make it look to the outside world like everything is still just fine.

When Prince Kenton returns home from years travelling abroad, he makes an electrifying announcement: he is having a ball, and means to choose his bride from amongst the commoners. Ella must get to that ball! Not that she will be the one chosen, but if she is--it would be a way out, while still keeping her promise to provide for her family.

Her friend Will, whom she often meets by the pond in the morning, has been so sweet to her always. He works at the palace, in charge of the stables. Maybe if he could give her a ride, or something...there must be a way for her to go!

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I read this one after Ella's Will and it actually made me like Ella better. From Will's perspective, she is just too angelic and sweet to be believed. This one shows that she does feel frustrated and angry at her stepmother and stepsisters, at times, and that she isn't completely perfect.

Content: Clean.

Ella's Will, by Jessilynn Stewart Peaslee

3 stars: Maybe it's not the Prince who deserves the lady's hand.

Will Hawkins grew up in the Blakely home, ever since his own father died. In fact, Henry Blakely taught him more about what it means to be a man and a father than anyone else. His love of horses, and his first horse of his very own, came from working for Mr. Blakely. When Mr. Blakely died, however, Will was let go.

Some years later, as he's passing Ashfield--the Blakely ancestral home--he notices what seems to be a servant girl out in the yard. She is barefoot, though the ground is frozen, and ragged. When he gets closer, he recognizes Ella Blakely--at least, that's who it seems to be--but why the fear the comes over her face when he stops to talk to her, and why in heaven's name is Henry Blakely's daughter in this condition in her own home?

What he discovers is disheartening, to say the least. However, he learns that there is nothing he can do for Ella without causing additional hardship to her. Her stepmother will punish Ella at the slightest sign of help or interference from anyone, including Will. A chance meeting by a pond in the woods later on begins a new ritual of morning visits. He comes to treasure that time spent together.

As they both mature, Will begins to think about and plan for marriage. He's in charge of the Royal Stables, and has managed to save up some money. Then word comes out that the Prince plans to host a ball, to include commoners. What's more, he has stated his intentions of choosing a bride from those attending the ball. As Will thinks about his beloved Ella, he can't ruin her chances of being chosen by the Prince for a life of luxury, so he keeps his proposal (and most of his feelings bottled up) and does his best to support her as she gets ready for the ball. A few kisses may change everything, though.

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Of the duo, I actually read this one first, as I mentioned earlier. It was good, though Will has Ella on such a pedestal that it was hard to relate to or like her very much. It was a sweet story about true love--in this case manifesting itself by Will sacrificing his own hopes for the greater good of the one he loved. Some humor in the grounds staff being used as waiters in the castle for the big ball. I was happy with the ending.

Content: clean.

Cinder and Ella, by Melissa Lemon

3 stars: Unexpected depth.

Cinder and Ella are sisters, the middle of 4 girls. Their family used to be close and happy, until one day the Prince came and talked to their father late into the night, about rebellion and how the King was mad. His words had a devastating effect, over time ensnaring their father in a subtle but evil spell. He eventually left the family all together. Their mother copes with the loss and changes by weaving constantly, day and night, and either giving in to or ignoring her daughters completely.

Katrina, the eldest daughter, becomes more and more selfish and tyrannical. Meanwhile, Beatrice, the baby of the family, is given anything she wants to stop her from crying or throwing a fit. Cinder sweetly goes about serving the family and taking care of the other 2, while Ella is more spunky and often gets exasperated with the state of things. The 2 girls are best friends, however, and help each other as much as they can.

Their mother has become confused in her mind, to the point where Ella does not exist anymore. She has become a part of Cinder, so rather than call for either girl by name, they both become "Cinderella." Cinder gets a job at the castle to help support the family, but Ella can't put up with the dysfunction all by herself for long. She soon also leaves to find work--preferably somewhere far, far away from the unhappiness that fills her home.

When Cinder returns home on leave to discover Ella gone, she decides she must find her, no matter what. She talks to a considerate guard at the castle, who forms a search party for the missing girl. Unfortunately, along the way, the Prince is informed of the plans, and he sets in motion sinister plans of his own for the sisters.

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This one was quite different than the usual story. The basic elements are still there, but most have been altered dramatically. It was interesting. I didn't love it, but I liked it fine. Then I got to the end and thought--wait a minute! Has this whole thing been an allegory? So then I thought about it a lot more, trying to fit the various characters into different roles in the allegory.

If you read it, I'd like to know what you think.

Content:There's an attempted rape--not graphic--and some fantasy violence.

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Can't get enough fairy tale retellings? Try some of these as well:

He Said/She Said: Fairy Tales from the Guys' POV

3 Fairy Tale Retellings

Happy reading!

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