Shelf Control #138: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Tender Morsels
Author: Margo Lanagan
Published: 2007
Length: 436 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever—magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

And from the synopsis of another edition:

In her inspired re-working of the fairy-tale Snow White and Rose Red Margo Lanagan has created characters that are vivid, passionate, flawed and fiercely devoted to their hearts’ desires, whether these desires are good or evil. It is the story of two worlds – one real, one magical – and how, despite the safe haven her magical world offers to those who have suffered, her characters can never turn their backs on the real world, with all its beauty and brutality.

Tender Morsels is an astonishing novel, fraught with the tension between love and horror, violence and tenderness, despair and hope.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy many years ago.

Why I want to read it:

After reading Margo Lanagan’s amazing short story collection Black Juice, I was dying to read more by this author. I also read her novel The Brides of Rollrock Island, which I thought was incredibly beautiful (but also disturbing.) I’ve heard that Tender Morsels is very dark, and I’ve read some pretty extreme reviews both pro and con, which make me even more convinced that I should read it and judge for myself.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Shelf Control #73: Blood Red, Snow White

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: Blood Red, Snow White
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Published: 2007
Length: 304 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his home in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, it is with little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously romantically entangled with revolutionary leader Trotsky’s personal secretary. Both sides seek to use Arthur for their own purposes…and, as he struggles to find autonomy, both sides grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from the conflict with his beloved. But when he attempts to extract himself and Evgenia from the complicated politics and politicians that he fears will lead them both to their deaths, the decisions he faces are the most dangerous and difficult of his life.

How I got it:

I ordered a used copy online.

When I got it:

About three years ago.

Why I want to read it:

After falling under the spell of Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood (review), I tracked down several more of his books. This is one of 3 or 4 sitting on my shelves, waiting to be read. I think the tag line on the cover captures exactly why I felt drawn to this book: Fairy tale, spy thriller, love story in the Russian Revolution. Any one or two of those elements on their own would be enough to catch my attention, but put them all together? Yes, please. I’m going to really try to make a point of reading Blood Red, Snow White this year.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

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Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

My Thoughts:

What a lovely book!

The Bear and the Nightingale reads like an extended riff on Russian fairy tales. While the main character Vasya (Vasilisa) is rooted in real life, with a family, a home, and the realities of harsh Russian winters, her life is filled with hints of magic. Set in the medieval Russian era, the book shows the harmony that exists between the people and the traditional spirits, even as their outward lives are governed by the Church. The women of the house leave offererings for the domovoi and other guardian spirits, but only Vasya is gifted with the ability to see and converse with them. When a new, ambitious priest arrives and forces the people to stop their offererings to the spirits, things go from bad to worse.

The writing in The Bear and the Nightingale is pitch-perfect, with a rhythm that evokes fairy tales and magical beings. It feels throughout that we’re listening to a folktale, and so the mood is sustained from moment to moment, even in the more mundane scenes of household chores or treks through the snow.

Vasya is a wonderful character, unwilling to accept the only two paths — marriage or convent — available to a young woman at that time. Through her independence and strong will, Vasya forges a new future for herself, even at the risk of gossip, ostracism, and physical danger.

It took me a little while to find the thread of the main plot, as the opening chapters feel a little scattered and disconnected. Once we meet Vasya, the story really comes together and develops more momentum. All in all, a very satisfying and enjoyable read.

Note: I didn’t discover until I’d finished the book that this is the first in a projected trilogy. The Bear and the Nightingale reads as a stand-alone, and felt quite complete at the end. Still, I’ll look forward to revisiting these characters and this world.

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The details:

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fiction – fairy tales
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Thursday Quotables: Roses and Rot

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Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

Roses and Rot

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
(published 2016)

The world of fairy tales creeps into this story of two sisters at an elite artists’ retreat:

But there is another thing about midnight. It is when illusions break. When you can see the truth beneath them, if you are looking. There is always a crack in the illusion, a gap in the perfection, even if it is only visible with the ticking of a clock.

Midnight is when you look, if there is a truth you need to see. If you are brave enough to bear what you witness.

For just a moment, the smoke dissipates, the mirrors shatter, and the glamour is gone. All that’s left is the truth of the story, the truth in your heart, your darkest secret.

A glass shoe, abandoned on the stairs.

Once upon a time.

Tick.

Tock.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Shelf Control #5: The Uncertain Places

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Uncertain PlacesTitle: The Uncertain Places
Author: Lisa Goldstein
Published: 2011
Length: 237 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In this long-awaited new novel from American Book Award winner Lisa Goldstein, an ages-old family secret breaches the boundaries between reality and magic, revealing the places between them.

When Berkeley student Will Taylor is introduced by his best friend, Ben, to the mysterious Feierabend sisters, Will quickly falls for enigmatic Livvy, a chemistry major and accomplished chef. But Livvy’s family—vivacious actress Maddie, family historian Rose, and their mother, absent-minded Sylvia—are behaving strangely. The Feierabend women believe that luck is their handmaiden, and so it is, almost as though they are living in a fairy tale.

But the price for such gifts is extremely high. Will and Ben will unravel the riddle of a supernatural bargain, hoping to save Livvy from what appears to be an inescapable fate.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

Several years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I read a review of this book shortly after its release, and the reviewer absolutely raved about how great it is. I picked up a copy on my next visit to a bookstore, but somehow ended up shelving it and never picking it up again. I still think it sounds like something I’d love!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

 

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

Top Ten Tuesday: My favorite fairy tale retellings

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about fairy tale retellings — either ones we’ve read or ones we want to read. I’m doing a bit of both.

I’ll start with the fairy tale retellings that I’ve read and loved:

1) Deerskin by Robin McKinley: An incredibly moving and disturbing, yet oddly beautiful, retelling of the somewhat obscure fairy tale Donkeyskin.

Deerskin

2) Robin McKinley writes such amazing reimaginings of fairy tales, that I’m going to include another three as one item: Beauty, Rose Daughter (both retellings of Beauty and the Beast), and Spindle’s End (a retelling of Sleeping Beauty).

McKinley collage

3) Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale: I’ll admit to being confused by the tower for a while and assuming this was a retelling of Rapunzel, which it is not. According to the author’s website, it’s a retelling of a lesser known Grimm tale called Maid Maleen. But in any case, no matter which tale it’s based on, I really enjoyed it!

Book of a Thousand Days

4) The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine: I think the concept of this book is just so clever — The Twelve Dancing Princesses retold as a tale of harshly confined sisters in Jazz Age New York. (review)

Girls at the Kingfisher Club

5) Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce: I really liked this retelling of Red Riding Hood (who seems here to be mixed with heaping spoonfuls of Buffy).

Sisters Red

6) The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer: I have a sneaking suspicion that these books will be everywhere for this week’s TTT topic! I’ve absolutely loved the books in this series so far, and can’t wait for the final one to be released this fall. (And then the series will be over… sob.) (review)

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7) My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer: This collection of rewritten fairy tales includes some really weird and wonderful new versions of classic tales. You can read the collection straight through or pick it up and read stories at random. Either way, very entertaining. Plus, you just can’t beat the title.

My Mother She Killed Me

8) Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman: Another collection of rewritten tales, in this case classic Grimm stories rewritten by the masterful Philip Pullman. Includes both tried-and-true favorites and well as more bizarre or obscure tales — quite fun to read. (review)

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm

9) Fables by Bill Willingham: The Fables series is simply one of my very favorite things ever. Take just about every fairy tale character you can think of, put them into modern day New York, create incredibly complex world-building, and write 150 comic books in the series. The series is available as a series of paperback volumes, and the final volume, #22, was just released last week. I can’t quite bring myself to read it — I just don’t want it to be over! (tribute)

Fables v22

10) Finally, two from my shelves which I haven’t read yet, although I’d like to:

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  • Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, a retelling of Rapunzel
  • Bound by Donna Jo Napoli, a retelling of Cinderella

Fairy tale retellings are such fun to read. Which ones do you love?

Share your link, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I host a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm

Book Review: Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

First of all, for those of you who have been following my struggles: I did it! I actually finished a book of short stories! I’ve mentioned a few times now that I have a big problem with story collections, and generally avoid them like the plague. I made an exception, however, for Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman, because a) fairy tales! and b) Philip Pullman!

And now that that’s out of the way… what can I tell you about this collection? We all — or at least, those of us above a certain age — grew up with the color-themed fairy books, right? I was a bit obsessed with these as a child, and read whichever volumes were available on my library’s shelves at any given book-bingeing visit. It’s been years since I’ve revisited fairy tales in the written form, as opposed to all the Disnified versions that I’ve watched countless times with my kids.

In Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm (let’s just call if FTFTBG for now, okay?), Philip Pullman presents fifty Grimm tales which he’s rewritten in modern, simple English. The language is straightforward and pure, without archaisms that abound in more “traditional” Grimm collections. At the conclusion of each story, the author includes source information as well as his own comments on the story itself and any changes he may have made from the original narratives. He is quite faithful to Grimm, identifying which edition of the Grimm stories he’s pulled from, and only deviates from the source material when he feels that the story is missing a connection or a conclusion.

Pullman’s comments vary from factual — stating source and context — to highly opinionated, and it’s these latter types of comments that are the most entertaining. When the author has something to say, he really says it. Here’s one of my favorites:

However, the tale itself is disgusting. The most repellent aspect is the cowardice of the miller, which goes quite unpunished. The tone of never-shaken piety is nauseating, and the restoration of the poor woman’s hands simply preposterous… Instead of being struck by wonder, here we laugh. It’s ridiculous. This tale and others like it must have spoken very deeply to many audiences, though, for it to spread so widely, or perhaps a great many people like stories of maiming, cruelty and sentimental piety. (Comments on story #21, “The Girl With No Hands”)

The introduction to FTFTBG is wonderful, outlining the history of the Brothers Grimm and their efforts to record and retell folk tales. Philip Pullman gives a very useful overview of common characteristics of fairy tales, among them the immediacy of the characters and narrative: The characters tend to have no backstory, and often lack names other than “the miller”, “the tailor”, “the youngest son”, etc. The stories are tales of actions and consequences, with little to no time spent on descriptions of settings or the natural world, character motivations, or personal growth or development:

There is no psychology in a fairy tale. The characters have little interior life; their motives are clear and obvious. If people are good, they are good, and if bad, they’re bad… The tremors and mysteries of human awareness, the whispers of memory, the promptings of half-understood regret or doubt or desire that are so much part of the subject matter of the modern novel are absent entirely.

I am not an academic; I have no fancy degrees in folklore, ethnography, or comparative literature. I can’t compare Philip Pullman’s retellings to other versions, reinterpretations, or new translations. What I can assess is how this particular collection of stories worked for me as a reader — and the answer is, it worked very well indeed!

I truly enjoyed this collection, which includes both familiar tales (“Cinderella”, “Rapunzel”, “Snow White”, “Little Red Riding Hood”) as well as tales (with wonderful titles!) that I’d never heard of, such as “Hans-my-Hedgehog”, “The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage”, and “The Singing, Springing Lark”. Even for the most familiar tales, I was surprised to realize how far my own memory of the stories had strayed from the Grimm version into the land of Disney princesses and happily-ever-afters. There’s something oddly appealing — at least to me, with my appreciation for the dark and off-beat — in realizing that even a story that ends with kisses and marriage (such as “Cinderella”) also includes self-mutilation, horrific cruelty, and shoes filled with blood. In real Grimm stories, fairy tales are definitely not soothing stories to lull children into peaceful dreams!

Some of the stories which were new to me were quirky and funny, such as “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About The Shivers” and “Lazy Heinz”. Then again, there are plenty of truly disturbing stories. “Thousandfurs”, for me, is the most disturbing in the collection, not specifically because of Pullman’s retelling, but because “Thousandfurs”  is one of the origin stories for the brilliant yet wildly upsetting novel Deerskin by Robin McKinley.

And perhaps that’s the point and the beauty of reading such a well-written and thoughtful collection of traditional fairy tales: We’ve all encountered these stories in so many ways, with so many different interpretations. In reading them anew, we’re instantly reminded of all the associations we’ve developed with these stories, from reinterpretations in modern novels to our grandparents’ versions of fairy tales as bed-time stories to cautionary tales about greed and duplicity. What’s most interesting to me is that the stories resonate so deeply and so widely; your Rapunzel and my Rapunzel may be very different, but the bottom line is that fairy tales like these give us a common language and cultural points of reference. On my bookshelf, I have a wonderful collection of short fiction by women writers entitled We Are The Stories We Tell. Given the depth of experiences we all share thanks to fairy tales such as those in FTFTBG, I’d say that we are also the stories we read.

The Monday agenda

Not a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

So what’s on the reading agenda this week?

From last week:

Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin: Done! My review is here.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin: Quit after reading 150 pages. I just couldn’t get into it, despite having enjoyed the first book in the series.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: Done! My review is here.

Beta by Rachel Cohn: Returning to the library unread. I was about to start this one, then discovered from the dust jacket that this book is first in a new series… and I’m trying to swear off new series for a while.

So far, no new books for my kiddo and me. We haven’t settled on our next read-aloud yet, and had a couple of false starts this week with books that neither of us ended up enjoying. Soldiering on! We still have a few more to try, and I’m hoping that one of the ones that I most want to read will also appeal to this opinionated 10-year-old.

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon: Done! The group re-read has finally come to an end. We’ll be starting the next in the series, The Fiery Cross, in January. And if you happen to be an Outlander fan and want to join the fun, just let me know and I’ll get you connected.

And this week’s new agenda:

I hereby declare: It’s Graphic Novel Week!

I’ve been accumulating a stack of graphic novels over the past few weeks, and I think I’ll dive in and devote my reading week to catching up. So exciting! On the list are:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 9 volume 2: On Your Own: If you thought Buffy’s story ended when the TV show went off the air, and you’ve been missing her ever since, check out the continuing story in graphic novel form.

Angel and Faith: Daddy Issues: Excellent Buffy spin-off.

Soulless manga, volume 2: The manga version of Changeless by Gail Carriger.

A Wrinkle In Time graphic novel: My Hanukkah gift from my daughter. See me gushing with joy about this here.

Fairest, volume 1: A new spin-off from Bill Willingham’s Fables series, which I love madly and deeply.

Werewolves of the Heartland: A Fables stand-alone, centered on my absolutely favorite character from the Fables world. Can’t wait!

Locke & Key: Clockworks: Volume 5 in the superbly creepy series by horror master Joe Hill.

Other than graphic novels, I plan — quite cautiously and with some trepidation — to add in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman. Given the fact that I am just a terrible reader of short stories and find it impossible to maintain interest long enough to get through an entire book of stories, even if they’re by an author whom I love (as is the case here), I’m setting myself the rather mild goal of reading this collection of fairy tales bit by bit. I’ll aim for two stories a week — that should let me enjoy the stories without feeling my usual frustration at not reading a “real” novel.

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.

Fresh Catch: This week’s exciting new book arrivals

Two books I’ve been eagerly awaiting arrived this week, and I’m just pleased as punch. (Can punch be pleased? Is that punch as in Hawaiian? Or like what comes from a closed fist? Or should that be with a capital P, as in the puppet who abuses puppet Judy? I think I don’t understand this expression after all. But I digress).

Book #1:

I’ve been waiting for this one since August (I even blogged about it, here, in a fit of intense anticipation), and here it is! Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm, by Philip Pullman, is a collection of Pullman’s 50 favorites, including tried-and-true standards such as “Snow White”, “Rumpelstiltskin”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Cinderella”. I can’t wait to read these, but I must confess that I’m even more intrigued by the titles of some of the lesser-known stories in the collection. Has anyone ever heard of “Thousandfurs” or “The Donkey Cabbage”? How about “The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs”, “The Girl with No Hands”, or “The Nixie of the Millpond”? Listen, I adored Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and I’d be willing to read just about anything he sets his pen to… add to that my love of fairy tales, and this collection seems like a sure bet to me.

Of course, I do have to proceed with caution, as I am admittedly terrible at reading short stories, and no matter how interested I may be in a collection, I almost never make it all the way through. I have a plan, however! I believe I’ll tackle this lovely new book in small bites — let’s say, oh, maybe 2 or 3 stories per week? I think the solution to my unavoidable impatience with story collections is to find a work-around so that I don’t end up frustrated by thoughts of all the novels I could be reading instead. So, if I take this one slow and steady, mixing in fairy tales betwixt and between all my other reading, I should be able to stick with it and get all the enjoyment from Pullman’s new collection that it seems to promise.

Book #2:

Sounds the trumpets! Wave the flags! Send up some fireworks, for Pete’s sake! (Wait, who’s Pete? Never mind…) It’s the newest book from Diana Gabaldon! Yes, Diana Gabaldon Herself, creator of the Outlander series, which I love beyond all reason. But if you live in the US, don’t go looking for this book in your local bookstore — it won’t be there. First things first — the basic facts:

A Trail of Fire, by Diana Gabaldon, is a collection of four novellas, one brand-new and three which were included in already published anthologies. For various reasons related to copyrights, the three already published stories can’t be re-released in the US just yet as they still belong to the anthologies, which is why, if you really want to get your hands on this collection, you’ll have to look outside your usual US sources.**

**So far, I know US readers who have successfully ordered A Trail of Fire from Amazon UK and from The Book Depository. The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Arizona has signed copies available for mail order as well (with a hefty price tag).

The contents of A Trail of Fire are:

1) “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” — published in the US in 2010 in the Songs of Love and Death anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. (Note to Firefly fans: This is not a Serenity cross-over, and Wash is not a character in this story. Just to clear up any potential confusion.) “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” tells the story of Roger MacKenzie’s parents and their tragic fates during WWII, hinted at in the Outlander books but never fully explained prior to this story. This is essential reading for fans of the series, best read after Echo In The Bone.

2) “The Custom of the Army” — published in the US in 2010 as part of the Warriors anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. This story focuses on Lord John Grey, a supporting character in many of the Outlander books and lead character in a spin-off series. “The Custom of the Army” is set in 1759 and largely concerns the Battle of Quebec, plus much military intrigue.

3) “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” — published in the US in the anthology Down These Strange Streets, again courtesy of George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. This is another Lord John story, dealing with his lordship’s first posting to Jamaica at the head of a squadron detailed to deal with a slave rebellion, who end up with much more sinister forces to contend with. In terms of series chronology, the events in this story occur before the events in Voyager.

4) The new one! “The Space Between” has not previously been available, and will not be published in the US until 2013, when it will be included in the forthcoming anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. “The Space Between” takes place in 1778, after the events in Echo In The Bone, is set in France, and has as its main characters several side characters from the Outlander series, including Michael Murray, Marsali’s sister Joan, and the Comte St. Germain. I don’t know anything else about it… but I will soon!

At the risk of sounding like an insane fan, I will admit to already owning the anthologies containing stories 1 – 3, but after much debate (me vs. me), decided to go ahead and purchase A Trail of Fire for two reasons: One, to get my hands on “The Space Between” (obviously!) without having to wait until next March, and two, because it just looks like a beautiful book. Yes, I do sometimes judge books by their covers. When I truly give my heart to a book or series, I get a great deal of pleasure from having nice-looking copies on my shelves. A Trail of Fire will look simply smashing with all its “colleagues” — I have a space reserved for it right next to The Scottish Prisoner.

 

Book Review: Some Kind of Fairy Tale

Book Review: Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Fifteen-year-old Tara Martin disappeared without a trace on a beautiful spring day when the bluebells were all in bloom. Twenty years later, on Christmas Day, Tara knocks on her parents’ door, still looking like a teenager and with a strange tale to tell. Tara’s reappearance causes relief, joy, and turmoil for the family she left behind, as well as for her former boyfriend Richie, whose life went completely off the rails after he was accused of foul plan in Tara’s disappearance.

Tara’s return is not, perhaps, as she expected:

Twenty years is, after all, a long time. We are not the same people we were. Old friends, lovers, even family members: they are strangers who happen to wear a familiar face.

Tara tells an impossible tale, of a romantic man on horseback, travels to a different world, and what to her was a six-month stay in a land both strange and beautiful. Tara’s brother Peter is determined to figure out the truth of what happened to Tara, and enlists the aid of his wife, his former best friend Richie, and a retired psychiatrist to sift through the conflicting threads of her story.

Graham Joyce is a gifted writer whose words and tempo are lilting and lovely. He has a talent for taking the every day and making it mysterious, adding a rhythm to the routine occurrences within a family that bring in the larger world and its unknowability. Characters are sharply drawn and defined, including Peter, a tired but devoted family man, passionately in love with his wife, hurt by the loss of his friend, joyful yet resentful of Tara’s return; Mrs. Larwood, the elderly neighbor who may in fact have her own tale to tell; and Richie, stuck in the past, alone and loveless, having put his life on hold once Tara disappeared.

I had expected Some Kind of Fairy Tale to be a more or less traditional tale of a mortal crossing over into the land of the fae. As it turns out, it is and it isn’t. The changing points of view within the story heighten the mystery, and make it impossible to come to any one particular conclusion — although the end of the story certainly made one explanation seem more likely than others.

Each chapter begins with a quote, and I found these entirely delightful, so much so that I’d like to collect them all and refer back to them time and again. A favorite: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.” (Albert Einstein)

The author’s previous novel, The Silent Land, is one of the most exquisite pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. Some Kind of Fairy Tale did not have the same impact on me and I wouldn’t rate it quite as highly, but it is quite lovely in its own right and I can recommend it whole-heartedly.

Graham Joyce warns us of the shifting nature of the narrative and the truths contained therein early on:

Of course, everything depends on who is telling the story. It always does.

It’s entirely possible that I don’t entirely understand what really transpired in this haunting tale. Then again, maybe we’ll all understand it differently, and I think that’s as it should be.