I love the internet. Every once in a while - or even fairly often, if you're both open and judicious - you can find some superb strangers who can become friends, out there in the vastness of cyberspace. Example: For upwards of a decade I've depended on my amazing Working Moms community of friends ( / co-cult members / axe-murderers, according to my mother-in-law, who owns no answering machine or DVD player, and certainly no computer.) Another site where like-minded people put up with me these days is at the NPR pop culture blog, MonkeySee, which I've mentioned here repeatedly.
So one voice there belongs to a commenter whose recommendations were so to my taste that we eventually friended on facebook / followed each other on twitter / blah blah blah mindmeldcakes. I mean, anyone who loves Shannon Hale and British costume drama is bound to get along with me, really. (Go, quick, read Goose Girl! No, now. I'm serious.) And at one point, Margaret (who will someday have My Path Not Traveled Dream Job #2: children's librarian) posted a gorgeous list of new-to-me novels. I've just finished several of them, and have to share.
First up: Robin Mckinley's Beauty which, maybe this is obvious, is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Despite the fact that the dishes moving across the table on their own kept sending me to a Disney place, giving this book an entirely unwarranted upbeat soundtrack, I was enchanted by Mckinley's retelling. (Yes, I said "enchanted." Live with it.) Beauty's voice is smart and a little sardonic, and always true. Her deep love for her family propels her through so much of the action, giving her the strength to deal with the magically opening doors and the claws of The Beast. The class-distinction and hints of time-flexibility story lines add some unexpected depth and interest to the Happily Ever After story.
Also in the fairy stories retold basket is Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard. Here, one of Queen Mary Tudor's maids, Kate, is banished to a mysterious castle where things are not quite as evolved from heathen / fairy-folk times as the 16th-century nobility might have assumed. It's an adventure with some love thrown in, full of music and mystery and the kind of hero who can't ever see herself as heroic, because all she does is what she thinks anyone would do in her place. In Kate's case, it's her clear mind and her self-possession that elevate her actions into the heroic realm. I wish that Pope had given her as strong a voice as Mckinley did Beauty, but I've got no other complaints about this extremely well plotted and paced tale.
Jumping forward a few centuries, I also read Josephine Tey's first novel, The Man in the Queue. Although I'm generally fond of the Scotland Yard mystery stuff, I'd never heard of Tey (or her a.k.a.s), but I quickly added more of her work to my library's hold list. Inspector Grant has an unidentified body, the murder weapon, and several people who were within inches of the man as he was killed, but very little else to go on as he attempts to solve the case. (Confession: about 2/3 of the way through, I told K - my 11 year old - that I was sure Grant was chasing the wrong guy. K had me write a list of everyone it could be, ranked by my level of suspicion, then picked his choice of murderer from the middle of the list. We were both wrong - because although the info was all there, I completely forgot about the relevant person until the confession, so the murderer wasn't listed. And then I had to kick myself.) I can get irritated with mysteries when the solution comes from absolutely nowhere, so although neither Grant nor I figured it out, I admire the way Tey set us up. And oh - her language, her style, her characterizations! Yes, please, more more more.