Sep 8, 2009

The Princess Tales by Gail Carson Levine (and BBAW)

The Fairy's Mistake The Princess Test Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep

Gail Carson Levine’s first three Princess Tales - The Fairy’s Mistake, The Princess Test, and Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep - are humorous retellings of, respectively, the fairy tales “Diamonds and Toads”, “The Princess and the Pea”, and “Sleeping Beauty”.

The Fairy’s Mistake closely follows the plot of the original story, in which a fairy rewards one sister for being kind by making jewels come out of her mouth whenever she speaks, and punished the others by making her spit snakes, toads, and other unpleasant critters. Except that in this case, the results of what were supposed to be a reward and a punishment are not quite what one would expect.

Like in the original tale, Lorelei, the heroine of the The Princess Test, is expected to prove she’s a real princess (which, by the way, she is not) by noticing there's a pea under twenty mattresses. But what she does instead is question the King and the Queen’s assumptions about what a girl is supposed to be.

Finally, in Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, there's a twist to the christening that results in the young princess being doomed to prick herself with a spindle and sleep for a hundred years: another fairy gives Princess Sonora the gift of being ten times as smart as everyone else, which turns her, as you can imagine, into a very usual child.

My friend Shanra, who was sweet enough to send me these books (thank you!), had warned me that they weren’t as good as Levine’s Ella Enchanted, and so I was careful not to approach them with unreasonably high expectations. She was right. I did have a fun reading these novellas. I loved seeing Levine turn fairy tale conventions around, and I laughed out loud more than once. But in the end, I guess I was still a little bit let down that they weren’t as daring as Ella Enchanted was when it comes to questioning commonly held assumptions about girls.

Don’t get me wrong – these three heroines are smart and fun and far from passive. But take, for example, The Fairy’s Mistake, my least favourite of the three stories – I will have to give away the ending in order to explain what I mean, so skip the rest of the paragraph if you don’t want to know. The prince who courts Rosella, the sister who spits jewels, is nothing but a greedy jerk, and that's putting it kindly. Rosella doesn't really like him all that much, yet at the end they stay together anyway, and she agrees to give him half the jewels that come out of her mouth because “he had made her a princess, after all.” We are told this is a fair deal, but I have to say that this isn't quite my definition of a fair deal. I suppose Levine didn't want to deviate from the original story too much, but still, poor Rosella - I was left wondering if she was going to be happy at all.

Having said this, I did spend a lovely afternoon with these books, so please don’t let this dissuade you from picking them up. As long as you don’t expect something as fresh and satisfying as Ella Enchanted, you’ll probably have a lot of fun reading them.

Other Opinions:
The Shady Glade (one volume edition)

(Did I miss yours?)

So, the Book Blogger Appreciation Week shortlists are up, and you can now vote for your favourites, and... *stares at feet awkwardly* I'm really not good at these things, but I wanted to thank those who nominated me again. I really enjoy blogging, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate knowing that you enjoy reading my ramblings. It's an honour to have been included alongside so many blogs I respect.

Secondly, there have been some concerns about the whole process behind the awards and the final shortlists, and while I know they aren't meant as attacks on he BBAW panellists or the shortlisted blogs, I still wanted to say a few words.

I think that this year the awards ended up being taken a lot more seriously than they were intended. This was inevitable considering how much BBAW has grown - it's no longer just a group of people who all more or less know each other having fun online for a week, but a much larger and therefore more impersonal event. And when people don't know one another very well, it's easy for misunderstandings to arise. Anyway, Amy said it perfectly in this post, and there isn't really all that much I can add.

I don't think objectively determining who the the best is is really possible, and that goes for all sorts of awards. This doesn't mean, of course, that the process can't be improved, and I know that the BBAW team is always open to suggestions. I just worry that the concerns we saw some months ago about there being "first class" and "second class" blogs will return because of this. I most definitely don't think there are - as far as I'm concerned, all there are are people who love books discussing them online. Still, I don't want to dismiss the feelings of anyone who feels excluded. And, knowing Amy, she doesn't either.

Anyway. I honestly do hope nobody is feeling left out or upset. There are many, many blogs I love and many people I admire who weren't included in the shortlists - passionate, intelligent, wonderfully written blogs that I plan to highlight during BBAW. And it goes without saying that I find what they do as valuable as what any of the shortlisted blogs do. Did I tell you I'm no good at these things? I'll shut up now before I'm crushed to death under the sheer awkwardness of this post.


  1. First, regarding the Princess Tales - Ambrose read these this summer and really liked them, except for the Princess Mistake, which confused him so much he couldn't even give us a straight plot synopsis when he was trying to do his review. (He reviewed it here if you're interested in reading it, but you don't need to link to it or anything.)

    About BBAW - It's hard. You know, that's all I'm going to say. I see both sides of the story, and it's just hard. It's sad that it's hard, though, when it's supposed to be fun.

    I did want to congratulate you on all your nominations. :)

  2. I have to say, I've never thought Gail Carson Levine's other books lived up to Ella Enchanted. Maybe it's a question of having too-high expectations. I think it's hard to do a good retelling of a fairy tale, and if you manage one, that doesn't necessarily mean you should try again (repeatedly).

    Hm, that sounded very curmudgeonly.

  3. After your glowing review of Ella Enchanted, I did pick up one of her omnibus books with the princess tales in it, and I have to confess that after The Fairy's Mistake I put it down in frustration. I still want to read Ella Enchanted, and maybe I should give some of the other stories a try, but I really did not enjoy the one I read. I'll confess to being a little relieved to hear that it's not just me.

  4. Amanda: I know I don't have to link it, but I hope you don't mind that I did anyway (because I wanted to!) I agree with Ambrose: The Fairy's Mistake was the weakest, and The Princess Test the strongest. As for really is hard. Congratulations to you too, though - I was so happy to see you on the list!

    Jenny: Very good point, and that's actually one of the things I love about Shannon Hale. I know she's written more than one fairy tale retelling, but I love how after The Goose Girl she just let the world become its own thing and "freed" the characters from their fairy tale roles.

    Kiirstin: It's definitely not just you. Don't let this scare you away from Ella Enchanted, though - it's a billion times better! And the other two stories are also better than The Fairy's Mistakes.

  5. Yeah, that definitely isn't my idea of a fair deal or a happy ending in my mind either. I'm still so excited to read Ella Enchanted! I can't believe I haven't found time for it yet. And I just bought another of hers (The Two Princesses of Bamarre) that I know nothing about.

    BTW, just e-mailed you...twice. ;)

  6. I'll prob skip these, since I enjoyed Ella Enchanted but I didn't love it! :)

    As far as BBAW...I think it would be better to just not have awards. I think it changes the focus of things, and anything that's a competition is inevitably going to end up with a few people really happy and everyone else feeling hurt. That being said, I love Amy and think she's one of the nicest bloggers out there, so I know that it wasn't her intention at all! It just seems like it'd be simpler to avoid the messiness altogether. :D

  7. Hmm. I may need to tell my cousin about these because I recall reading Ella Enchanted with her one summer and having a good time discussing it.

    About BBAW - I have to say: really difficult to vote! I've decided to be biased about it and vote for people I know and like. :P I've pretty much done my voting now. I wasn't nominated but I know a lot of people who were, so I don't feel left out. There are a LOT of book bloggers out there, and everyone has an opinion and approaches books and blogging in their own way. It just doesn't make sense to me to get upset over something that is meant as a way to encourage and acknowledge bloggers.

  8. I still desperately need to read Ella Enchanted. These novellas sound like fun reads.

    BBAW - the whole thing has flown right over my head. I am new to blogging this year, so really didn't expect to get involved. So I am standing on the sidelines, cheering my favourite bloggers along and not feeling at all bothered I am not involved. Good luck.

  9. I would love to get my hands on these books for my daughter and I. She would love them, I know it.

    As far as BBAW, people are bound to have their feelings hurt. There are so many really awesome blogs out there that just don't have the circulation that some of the others do, which is too bad. That means it is our jobs to get them nominated! As for the judging panels for the short lists, I was on one. And I think I can speak for most panelists in saying that I was fully dedicated to total neutrality. I knew very quickly what I needed to see for my category, and it didn't matter if these blogs were known to me or not. Now am I disappointed my blog itself didn't get short-listed? Yeah, but so what? I humbly bow down to those that made it...they rock. I'm new, and have lots of room for improvement. Way to go for you girl. So proud of you!

  10. Congrats on your being short listed.

  11. Congratulations on your (many) nominations! I voted for you in a bunch of awards... can't remember them all at the moment... but I really hope you get the Best Commenter one, as well as the Best Graphic Novel. And I also think that post of yours about fantasy and why you read it was pretty awesome. Cheers!

  12. I haven't loved any of Levine's books as well as Ella Enchanted, but I did enjoy her little Princess Tales- they're lots of fun. I'd never heard of the original "Diamonds and Toads" so that one was a bit unfamiliar- maybe that's why she stuck close to the original story. And the one I found most confusing was her Cinderella story, where a prince is the main character instead.

    About the awards- I was surprised myself to see that some blogs were on more than one shortlist. And in a few categories I didn't even vote at all, since the blogs were new to me and I felt I couldn't really choose, not being familiar with them. But now I have a lot of great new blogs to visit! Congrats on making the lists, and good luck.

  13. Just from your mentions of Ella Enchanted, I think that I need to check that one out. I love fairytales. I read the Robert Coover one that I think I saw you mention here. Thought provoking but I think it needs a few reads. Some of it ran right over my head.

    Congratulations on being nominated and shorlisted! Your blog makes my shortlist any day.

  14. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us on The Princess Tales. They do sound like fun books.

    Congratulations on your being short-listed for the BBAW awards! Amy's done such a wonderful job, as have the other volunteers. It's a process that will always need improving, as with everything else in life.

    I think what saddens me most are the people who are already so sure they won't take part in BBAW next year because they did not like the way something was handled. I would rather those people take a more active role in helping Amy make BBAW as good as it can be. Or at least give BBAW the benefit of the doubt. We learn as we go. And maybe what that person didn't like this year will be different next year.

    What gets me too is that BBAW week hasn't even officially started yet. BBAW is meant to be a community building activity. It is supposed to be fun and the awards are just a small part of it.

  15. I don't understand your objection to "she agrees to give him half the jewels that come out of her mouth because 'he had made her a princess, after all.'” Obviously you don't understand the appeal of big fluffy dresses with corsets and tutus and crowns and all that stuff! And if you don't believe me, just ask almost any little girl in the United States (thanks - or no thanks! - to Walt Disney)!

    I agree about Shannon Hale!

    Re BBAW, I look at BBAW and the awards too as a way to make myself insane by adding 8,000 new wonderful blogs to my Google Reader. And I think that's what we should take away: (1) amazement and appreciation for all the blogs out there; and (2) a way to enhance our own enrichment process by exposure to new blogs.

  16. Debi: I think those two take place in the world of Ella Enchanted actually! I hope you find time for it soon - it's seriously awesome :D And thank you! I don't know what I'd do without you.

    Eva: It seems hard to shift the main focus away from the awards, doesn't it? But yes, I couldn't love Amy more and I support her 100%! She's doing her very best, and hopefully things will get easier in the future. I just hate conflicts and hurt feelings and all that and probably get more upset than I should :P

    Janicu: I hope your cousin enjoys them! I still haven't voted for some of the BBAW categories, as I want to take some time to visit all the blogs. I really hope that once BBAW proper starts next Monday, nobody will feel left out!

    Vivienne: They are, but Ella Enchanted is just something else - I hope you enjoy it! And I'm very happy to hear you didn't feel out of the loop about BBAW.

    Sandy, thank you so much for the kind words! You're seriously one of the friendliest, most supportive bloggers out there. I was one of the panellists too, which is one more reason why I'm worried that people will get the wrong idea about Amy and the whole team and what this is supposed to be about. Like you, I did my absolute best, and some of the blogs I gave the highest scores to were ones I had never visited before. They were added to my reader, though!

    Beth, thank you and likewise!

    Alessandra, thank you so much!

    Jeane: Ooh, I haven't read the one about the prince! Even though it was confusing, the concept intrigues me. I need to get my hands on the rest of the tales, as I did enjoy them enough to want to read more. A lot of shortlisted blogs were new to me too, and I'm going to try to visit them all throughout the week. My poor reader won't be happy, though :P Thank you for the good wishes!

    Nicole, thank you! I actually haven't read Coover yet myself, but he's been on my radar for a while. I love fairy tales too.

    Wendy: That makes me sad too. I really hope people WON'T give up on BBAW just because the process wasn't perfect, and will instead stick around to help Amy and the rest of the team. How else will things be improved? I hope that by next week everyone will be having too much fun with BBAW proper to feel left out.

    Jill: lol! Dresses and tutus and crowns! Of course, that explains it...silly of me to overlook it ;) I went on a little google reader adding spree myself recently...I may yet regret it :P

  17. I am glad to see many friends here. ;)

    I think part of the problem is that the awards process has to start so much earlier than the rest of the BBAW activities. So all the focus goes there. I'm hoping next week will be more healing.

    And you're right...I hate to see anyone feel excluded, and I definitely know that things can and will be improved. Most of my favorites folder didnt' even make the shortlists and many committee members didnt' either. We do have a plan for next year and I think it's a good one! :) (but I thought that this year, too, LOL)

  18. As for the Levine books, they look fun. I won't run and buy them, but I did REALLY enjoy Ella Enchanted. I think I tried another one of Levine's books after I read Ella, and I didn't like it as much. I haven't read anything else by her since (I didn't even know these books were out), but I usually enjoy fairy tale retellings.

    In regards to BBAW~Congrats on being shortlisted! :)

  19. Congratulations on being included on the shortlist! I haven't really been keeping up on what is going on behind the scenes with the awards, so I can't really comment.

    As far as these books go, I think they would really be fun for both my daughter and me, and although they aren't really told from a feminist perspective, they sound like they are entertaining in their own right. Great review, I will be looking these books up.

  20. I just love re-tellings of fairy tales. I haven't read these or Ella Enchanted, but it sounds like I should put Ella on my list. I'm currently reading Sunshine (not a fairy tale re-telling!) by Robin McKinley and have discovered that she has written some re-tellings. Just picked up Spindle (sleeping beauty) and look forward to reading it. I like McKinley's writing style so far.

  21. The fairy tales sound good, even if they werent as good as Ella Enchanted, which I really enjoyed.

  22. Those books sound fun! And I still haven't read Ella Enchanted, yikes! :P

    Congrats on making the shortlists, Nymeth! You know I love reading your ramblings!!! :D

  23. Congratulations on getting shortlisted! How awesome! :)

  24. Thanks for linking to my blog. I really hope what I wrote *didn't* seem like an attack, because it honestly wasn't meant to be - just biased disappointment on not seeing the blogs I love featured. But with over 1000 blogs nominated, I couldn't really have expected it, probably! Amy has very sweetly asked me to write about UK blogs for the site, so I'll have my chance to wave the Union Jack!

  25. Oh, I love Gail Carson Levine. Ella Enchanted, though, was my least favorite. My favorite, so far, is The Two Princesses of Bamarre. And, wouldn't you know, I was in a purging mood when I read it so I didn't bother to keep it. I had no idea it would end up being my favorite!

    As to BBAW . . . sigh. Awards drive me nuts and I'm in total agreement with Eva. I haven't read about any controversy (I'll click through to Amy's post in a sec), but I'm not surprised for exactly the reasons you mentioned. At first, I wasn't planning to participate at all because I hate the thought of the inevitable hurt feelings for some who were not nominated at all or not short-listed. But, I did end up signing up for the fun of finding some new blogs.

  26. I'm sad to see that most of the blogs that I like didn't make it to the shortlist but I know they're the best (at least to me they are).

    Ana, congratulations on making to the shortlist! I'm happy for you. :)

  27. I remember reading those cute little books when I was younger. To me, they weren't as good as Ella Enchanted or The Princesses of Bamarre - I just read them to feed my addiction to fairytales re-told.


  28. Ella Enchanted was a huge hit around here a few years ago; the later books, less so--almost as if, having told her story once she felt compelled to re-tell it over and over.

    I can't comment on BBAW--I know so little about it--except to congratulate you on your nominations! Excellent job, and very well deserved.
    I can, however, tell you that there is something rather less prestigious (but fun!) waiting for you on my blog. When you get a chance--and before you bite your fingernails to the quick!
    I enjoy your blog very much.

  29. My friends watched the movie Ella Enchanted, and said it was okay, but not great. I didn't know it was based on a book. I'll read it before I read these.

    About BBAW, congrats on your nominations! I don't know much about it, but I wanted to congratulate you on the great blogging job you've been doing. It's great to visit your blog everyday and read your views on various books: it gives me a new perspective.

  30. Amy: That's a good point. There's really no way of avoiding that, though, as preparations for the awards do have to start early :( I think you did an excellent job of handling everything gracefully and diplomatically, and of trying to include anyone who felt left out. Hopefully all of this will be forgotten next week!

    heidenkind: Yes, it sounds like her others just don't live up to the wonder that is Ella Enchanted. And thank you so much!

    Zibilee: They were definitely still fun and worth reading! I just expected more because of Ella Enchanted - even after being warned not to :P

    Terri B: I have read two of McKinley's retellings and I recommend them both. Beauty was just wonderful in every way. Deerskin was much darker, but it did a very good job of dealing with the topic of sexual abuse. It was a difficult read, but a very good one.

    Naida: There's just no beating Ella!

    Melody and She, thank you so much!

    Simon, you absolutely didn't sound like you were attacking anyone. I understand your disappointment. I'd have been thrilled to have seen some favourites of mine on the shortlists. I don't comment much, but I read your blog regularly and find it one of the most well-written and intelligent out there. I think the truth is that everyone was disappointed - probably that's a good thing, as it indicates that the final list's didn't match any single person's idea of what the best book blogs are. I'm very happy to hear you'll be contributing to BBAW with a guest post and I look forward to reading it!

    Nancy: I'm happy to hear such good things about The Two Princesses of Bamarre! I look forward to reading it even more now. I'm glad you're still going to participate in BBAW - hopefully there will be much less of a focus on awards next week.

    Alice, exactly - we all know who our favourites are despite of awards. And thank you!

    Sharry: They do feed the addiction nicely, that's for sure :P

    ds: I know what you mean. And as Jenny was saying, doing it well once doesn't necessarily mean you should do it again. And going over to your blog in a second :D

    Hazra, I haven't watch the film, but from what I hear it does the book a disservice. Thank you so much for the kind words about my blog!

  31. I bought those Princess Books for my 8 year old niece last year for Christmas, because she was so into Barbie princesses that I thought she needed a different influence. And she liked them (setting her up to be pleasantly surprised by Ella Enchanted in the next year or so).

    I think there are too many awards categories (making them too much work for Amy & Cohorts, among the other problems mentioned here). I'd like to see more inclusiveness next week and less of what Trish has already discussed as "blogging being like H.S." next year. As you say, this is supposed to be for fun. Anyone who feels passionate about these subjects should go to grad school and study English Literature!

  32. You really are the sweetest person! And you are so right in suggesting that this is about community and not awards. It has been great clicking through the shortlists the last couple of days, and getting to know new blogs and people. So many great ones. I hope the fun of next week softens any ill feelings some may harbor. Happy reading!

  33. Congrats on the nominations! Very well deserved. :)

    Awards will always be like this unless it's a blind nomination process, y'know? But that's simply not possible in this situation. I'm not an expert but I have helped with a few awards at my job, so a way to combat the feeling of a popularity contest is to publish the criteria blogs are judged by to make the shortlist. They might be, I don't know, I haven't perused everything on the BBAW site yet.

    For example, is post frequency taken into consideration? Or any other standard "best practices" that judges could agree on like that.

    And now I'm off to see if BBAW already has that list posted somewhere!

  34. Awesome, they do have something on the timeline page: "Panelists review blogs and submit scores based on the following criteria: Quality of Writing, Originality and Diversity of Content, Audience Engagement, and Visual Aesthetic and Functionality."

    So what could help is to flesh that out a little bit and give 2-3 detailed bullets/examples per criteria.

  35. Congratulations on your nominations - you deserve them! I've been sad about all the controversy - this was just supposed to be fun! I really hope that next week will be about community, and not criticism.

    I love fairy-tale type books, so I think I would have fun with these!

  36. I really do have to read Ella Enchanted - it's been on my list since forever, it seems. I think I'll definitely start with Ella Enchanted, anyway, before I move on to other Levine books!

    Congratulations on being shortlisted for BBAW! This is my first year participating (would be hard to not be, since Ms Bookish was only a gentle little spark in my mind's eye this time last year!) and as a first-timer, I like the idea of the fun and the community. Not to mention, the thought of adding even more wonderful blogs to my Google Reader is just too enticing to resist (although Google Reader probably won't thank me!).

  37. I feel so bad not commenting on this post/these books, being the one who got them to you in the first place, but... I'm not quite sure what to say about them!

    I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed them, of course. I'd have felt bad about putting three books on your TBR pile and library shelf (for however short a period of time and however short the books) if you hated them.

    They're definitely children's books. They'd probably receive them far more positively than we did. But... What can we do, eh? (Apart from inventing a rejuvination method and make ourselves eight again.)

    As for the BBAW... I still hope I haven't hurt Amy or anyone's feelings with my post. Everyone has been doing an amazing job and I'm looking forward to the actual week. You're so right that the BBAW is about so, so much more than the awards and it's sad (if understandable) that people forget that. So... To end this comment... Happy BBAW, everyone! Enjoy the week! ^-^

    (P.S. It may feel like an awkward post to you, but it doesn't come across that way. *hugs, then kicks herself back into self-imposed Homework Exile*)

  38. Jeanne: I think one of the problems was that not all sectors of the blogging world felt represented - something to improve next year for sure! I'm hoping that once BBAW begins tomorrow all the bad feelings will be dispelled, though.

    Frances, thank you so much for the kind words. I'm hoping the same!

    Kelly: Thank you so much! Amy actually added the detailed criteria this week, but there are different opinions about whether they should have been published beforehand. Some say this would make it easy for blogs to just submit five posts that fit them but don't overall reflect the quality of their blogs. I can definitely see why this is a problem, but if at the same time, if everyone did that, in the end the most consistent blogs would hopefully still be rewarded. It's complicated to decide, though!

    Elizabeth, thank you so much! I have the same hope :)

    Belle: Yes, do start with Ella :D And thank you for the kind words!

    Shanra: I did enjoy them! Thank you again - you're too kind, my dear. I don't think you hurt anyone's feelings, and I can definitely understand how you felt. As I've told you before, these things make me anxious, too! And thank you for saying I didn't sound hopelessly awkward *hugs back*

  39. I can't remember now if I ever actually congratulated you here on your blog. Oops. So congratulations on all of your nominations! You may not believe it but you're very deserving of each and every one of them!! :)

    As for BBAW itself, there are always growing pains with anything new, and the fact that it grew so much, so quickly, means that there are bound to be some things that not everyone is happy with. Amy and crew have done a fantastic job though and I hope that everyone focuses on the community aspect, and the fun of this week, instead of getting bogged down in whatever concerns they have. And may next year's BBAW be even better! :)


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.