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Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
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The inspired concept of Maguire's praised debut, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, was not a fluke. Here he presents an equally beguiling reconstruction of the Cinderella story, set in the 17th century, in which the protagonist is not the beautiful princess-to-be but her plain stepsister. Iris Fisher is an intelligent young woman struggling with poverty and plain looks. She, her mother, Margarethe, and her retarded sister, Ruth, flee their English country village in the wake of her father's violent death, hoping to find welcome in Margarethe's native Holland. But the practical Dutch are fighting the plague and have no sympathy for the needy family. Finally, a portrait painter agrees to hire them as servants, specifying that Iris will be his model. Iris is heartbroken the first time she sees her likeness on canvas, but she begins to understand the function of art. She gains a wider vision of the world when a wealthy merchant named van den Meer becomes the artist's patron, and employs the Fishers to deal with his demanding wife and beautiful but difficult daughter, Clara. Margarethe eventually marries van den Meer, making Clara Iris's stepsister. As her family's hardships ease, Iris begins to long for things inappropriate for a homely girl of her station, like love and beautiful objects. She finds solace and identity as she begins to study painting. Maguire's sophisticated storytelling refreshingly reimagines age-old themes and folklore-familiar characters. Shrewd, pushy, desperate Margarethe is one of his best creations, while his prose is an inventive blend of historically accurate but zesty dialogue and lyrical passages about saving power of art. The narrative is both "magical," as in fairy tales, and anchored in the reality of the 17th century, an astute balance of the ideal and sordid sides of human nature in a vision that fantasy lovers will find hard to resist. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

After years of writing quality fantasy for children, Maguire published his first adult novel, Wicked, to literary acclaim. His new novel is even more accomplished, setting the Cinderella story in 17th-century Holland and making it a narrative of domestic upheavals and artistic challenges. The tale begins with the arrival of a recent widow from England, returned to her native Haarlem with her apparently retarded older daughter and a younger one who is unattractive but sharp and quickly develops an interest in painting. The three become housekeepers to the family of a tulip merchant; when his wife dies, leaving his own young daughter motherless, merchant and widow marry, and their daughters become stepsisters. Maguire places the reader wholly within his story's milieu, evoking the smells, the sights, and the superstitions of the time while deftly capturing his characters' personalities. The plot cannot be intended to surprise, but the sophisticated retelling gives the reader new insights into the truths about human motivations within relationships. For literary collections, including those for older teens.ÄFrancisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., CA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

YA-What were Cinderella's wicked stepmother and the ugly stepsisters really like? Maguire has come up with a fascinating hypothesis in this logical, not necessarily magical, retelling of the classic tale. Recently arrived from England, the Dutch-born widow Margarethe and her two children, ungainly and seemingly slow-witted Ruth and plain but intelligent Iris, move into the social mix that is Haarlem in the 17th century. Soon after her arrival, she marries a newly widowed tulip merchant with one child. The author firmly places his characters into the down-to-earth and stolid reality of a Holland fearful of the plague and intent on developing the tulip business that will make it famous, yet capable of nurturing Rembrandt and Hals. The well-drawn characters include a striving Dutch painter and his appealing apprentice; a beautiful, otherworldly child; her scatterbrained mother and burgher father; and even "The Queen of the Hairy-Chinned Gypsies." The plot is plausible and, given the fact that readers will think they know how it all works out, full of surprises. This is not an easy read, but the pretext is appealing and the resulting story worth the effort. Thoughtful YAs will enjoy a new take on a familiar tale, and be thoroughly involved in this historical romp.-Susan H. Woodcock, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

?[A] bewitching story..."Confessions has its roots in a fanciful tale--the Cinderella story--but it teases out motifs deeper than the generic fall-in-love-and-marry-the-prince-happily-ever-after....Witty and wise?Adult and sophisticated, his musings on beauty, ugliness, magic, reality, and imagination explore how our past follows us always and shapes our self-perception.? --"Chicago Tribune?A ravishing meditation on the truism that 'beauty helps preserve the spirit of mankind.' Maguire is rapidly becoming one of contemporary fiction's most assured myth-makers.? --"Kirkus Reviews" (starred)?A tale so movingly told that you will say at the end of the first reading, 'It's been a long time since I've read a book this good.' For philosophical depth and lively evocative language, few writers match Gregory Maguire.? --"Nashville Tennessean?A beguiling reconstruction of the Cinderella story...Maguire's sophisticated story-telling reimagines age-old themes and folklore-familiar characters...a vision that fantasy lovers will find hard to resist.? --"Publishers Weekly"?Captivating and beautifully written..."Confessions is a rich canvas of colorful characters and fantastic events rendered by an artist attentive to every surface and texture.? --"Book Magazine?Lively and delicious...its language is an extraordinary blend of moving narrative and music....[Maguire's] books may be placed beside the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley, John Crowley and the late Mervyn Peake. This dark folktale, a reworking of the Cinderella fable, is as exotic a vision...as mysterious as life itself.? --"Memphis Commercial Appeal?[An] engrossing story...endearing and memorable.? --"Boston Herald?Highly absorbing...Maguire'sprecise, slightly archaic language...sweeps readers through this mysterious and fascinating story.? --"Booklist?[An] arresting hybrid of mystery, fairy tale, and historical novel..."Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister isn't easy to classify or forget....The characters in these ?Confessions' might not end up happily ever after, but you won't want to miss them.? --"Detroit Free Press?There was a time, long ago, when Cinderella was simply a children's tale in which good triumphed over bad, pretty over ugly, pumpkins and mice over carriages and footmen....Now, the story has much more depth. Gregory Maguire has applied his devilish writing style and vivid imagination to the story of the glass slipper, and, in doing so, turned this simple tale into a Gothic saga of 17th-century Holland.? --"Fort Worth Morning Star-Telegram

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