Just Like Magic by Elizabeth Townsend
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this retelling of the Cinderella story, particularly the twist that had the stepmother not being evil but rather just weak and lazy--she didn't intend for Ella to become a servant so much as she just wasn't strong enough or paying enough attention to prevent her older daughter, Lucy, from manipulating the situation.
I also really enjoyed Ella's character arc as she transitioned from being nearly as big a snob--albeit a less imperious one--as her stepsisters to becoming a more humble, useful, and self-aware young lady. Cinderella is often portrayed as a saint whose spirit has pretty well been broken, but this version of Ella had flaws, was fairly stubborn and strong-willed, and seemed more realistic.
My only real complaint about the book is that in the end, Ella agrees to marry the prince. (Does that count as a spoiler if we all know the basic story already?) I think it would have been a better ending if she'd agreed to consider it but had insisted on taking more time to get to know each other. I know that's not "a fairytale ending," but it would have worked much better with the story arc and the trajectory of Ella's character development--an hour's conversation with a stranger does not a solid foundation for a marriage make. A good start to a relationship, yes, but jumping straight into marriage? No.
For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary. No sex, violence, or bad language. Not quite fantasy, but I'm not precisely sure when or where it's set.
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