The Sleeper and the Spindle is a retelling of both Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty. Throughout the land a sleeping spell is spreading, caused by the sleeping girl in the tower of a castle in the next kingdom. The queen of this kingdom (Snow White) and her three dwarf friends must find a way into the sleeping princess’ castle and break the curse.
This isn’t my favorite retelling of either of these two fairy tales, nor is it my favorite Neil Gaiman but it was a fun story nonetheless. The storytelling style reminded me a lot of Susanna Clarke’s writing, and she does fantastic fairy tale retellings.
This story is not that character driven, unfortunately. We don’t get a lot of character from the queen, but we do learn of her relationship with her magical stepmother, and how she used this to overcome another magical woman seeking adoration and power. I thought that was a clever way of handling the hero/villain trope.
There isn’t much else to say about the story itself. It’s a simple story, and a great one for kids who want different versions of their classic fairy tales.
The illustrations by Chris Riddell are absolutely stunning, however, and I think that people of all ages should pick up this book if only for the art.
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Kiki’s Delivery Service is about a young witch named Kiki who, at the age of thirteen, leaves home for a year to train and come of age. She leaves home with her black cat Jiji and finds a town by the sea, where, after some trials and tribulations, makes friends, starts a business, and leads a happy life.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favorite Studio Ghibli film, and it was only last year that I discovered it was based on this book! So of course I immediately bought it, but took my time in reading it. While the film will always be closer to my heart, this book was a cozy and wholesome read.
Some key differences between the book and the film:
The book talks more about the culture of the witches and Kiki’s family, explaining more why the witches have to live away from home after a year.
The book is much more episodic, with each chapter acting as a different sketch during each season Kiki lived in her seaside town. She makes many more friends than are shown in the film, including a girl just her age. I think that was important to include, especially after Tombo tells Kiki, basically, that she isn’t like other girls (and she finds it really weird to say). The other characters are very quirky and fun and give the reader a greater sense of the town’s character.
I am happy to say that Jiji is just as snarky as in the film, and as all black cats should be.
While this book is targeted towards a younger audience, I recommend it to readers of all ages. It is the perfect, wholesome coming-of-age story, filled with magic and learning how to be a person.
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The Daughters of Ys is based on a Breton tale, and includes (at least what I think is) Celtic folklore. In this story, two young women are the princesses of the mythical kingdom of Ys, the daughters of a king and a sorceress. Rozenn, the older daughter, loves solitude and a more wild life. Dahut, the younger, gains the abilities of her mother and craves the power and rule of the kingdom. Both sisters must reconcile not only their differences, but their own lives in order to save their kingdom and their people.
I am a huge fan of Celtic and folklore retellings, and this one was superbly done. Rozenn is not from the original story, rather from the opera by Lalo, but I can see why the authors chose to include her. In the original story, Dahut is lost to the sea, seemingly without redemption for her deeds. Here, at least one daughter gets to live and prosper, though Dahut does get a chance at an afterlife of her own. I love how different the sisters are and why they are made to decide what they decide. Ultimately, they must reckon with powers beyond their control – powers that include references to Faerie, Celtic deities and monsters, and others.
I also liked the portrayal of the liminality between Celtic and Christian mythology, as at the time that this story would take place, Christianity was just peeking its head into a larger world.
I absolutely have to talk about the art. Jo Rioux has a gorgeous art style that reminds me a lot of the art style from the Cartoon Saloon films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, very much in tune with the Celtic and mythological themes, as well as the liminality between the human and the spiritual world.
A lot of this graphic novel has to do with the sea, and Rioux presents even things that aren’t the sea – the shadows and plants and architecture – as a flowing substance that envelops the surroundings and its characters.
I recommend this amazing graphic novel to those who love mythological retellings, and those who like films like The Secret of Kells.
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No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant is based on the author’s true story of when they spent a summer as a teenager working at the “No Ivy League”. The “No Ivy League” hired teens to strip invasive ivy from the forests of Oregon. During their time there, Hazel, who had been home-schooled, met other teens who not only had the experience of high school that they did not, but who also came from different, diverse backgrounds that they were not used to. This graphic novel illustrates how much they learned about themself, their privilege, and how to be with other teens.
I picked up this book at Antigone Books when I was visiting Tucson, Arizona. I was first drawn by Newlevant’s art style, which is absolutely beautiful. I really want to check out more of their work, if only to just look at their beautiful drawings. Each chapter has illustrations of the ivy that Hazel had to pull, and most of the book, because it is monochrome, relies a lot on shadows, which I think worked so well for showing the emotions of the characters.
The reason I gave this book three stars really is just because I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book. I did enjoy the story, and it was a neat glimpse into someone’s life and growth. However, I think this book would be great for people just getting out of high school or just starting college or whatever path they choose to take in their early 20s. I’m quite a bit past that age, but I still found this story a deep and meaningful experience.
No Ivy League was a quick and fun read, and I recommend to anyone in their teens/early 20s, or even those who just need to check their privilege.
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I was recommended Silver in the Wood on Likewise when I asked for short books to read. This is quite a short book – I read it in less than two days via Scribd, and on my phone no less.
Silver in the Wood is a retelling of the Green Man folklore, featuring also fairy lore and all other forest and tree aspects of European folklore. Mr. Tobias Finch, the Green Man figure himself, meets the young and inquisitive Henry Silver, and the two form a bond as Mr. Finch seeks to protect him from the wood at Greenhallow. But when Spring arrives, Tobias is afraid for Silver, truly his love, because the Spring and Summer mean the arrival of Tobias’ old flame and the Lord of Summer himself, Fabian Rafela.
The Green Man is one of my favorite pieces of folklore, and Emily Tesh writes about it so well in this folkloric romance. She gives each character so much depth, even when they aren’t connected to the living wood of Greenhallow. My favorite character has to be Mrs. Silver, Henry’s mother, who is spunky, strong, wise, and inquisitive of the folklore that surrounds her. More than that, though, she becomes Tobias’ friend (if anyone was looking for found-family tropes, this is it!).
Also, I must say, it is a fabulous mlm romance.
This novella has what Weird Woods lacked in its storytelling. I cannot wait to read the sequel to this novella, as well as Tesh’s other works of fiction.
I recommend Silver in the Wood to all who seek the oldness and ancient parts of the world, which, in folklore, lie deep in the tales of the forests.
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As a Jewish woman, who also recently found out that she’s 20% British, I thought that Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland was an amazing find. I love folklore, and I know so little about where the stories of my culture come from. Unfortunately, I ended up being a bit disappointed with Liz Berg’s work.
Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland is divided by different areas of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Before each story, Berg gives a brief overview of the history of the Jewish peoples that lived in the specific area of Britain. Then she goes on to tell a Jewish folk tale.
I will say, I did enjoy the stories. They reminded me of the stories that the rabbi would tell us every Friday on Shabbat when I was in elementary school. The feeling of nostalgia was a tad overwhelming.
Liz Berg, however, is not really a writer. I tried to find information on Berg, her history, writing career, etc. All I really found is that she is a storyteller and has preserved these Jewish folk tales. Because of this lack of information, I have assumed that this is Berg’s first attempt at writing anything major, but I will take corrections to my assumption.
The little historical overviews at the beginning of each chapter are not written as histories, but more in the style of the stories she’s about to recount. The histories felt flimsy and not very thorough. In addition to this lack of thoroughness, she never explained where each story came from. She would explain her little history, then jump completely to something that is seemingly irrelevant. Here is an example from the historical introduction for Dublin:
“The first Chief Rabbi of Ireland (1921-36) was Rabbi Dr Yitzhak haLevi Herzog, whose son, Chaim, was born in Belfast and brought up in Dublin. Chaim went on to become the sixth President of Israel, while his father was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, having been the Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate in Palestine. Chaim Herzog retained close links with Ireland, presenting a sculpture in honour of the fifth president of Ireland, Cearbhall O Dalaigh, which is in Sneem Sculpture parkk, Co. Kerry.
This story is from Poland, where Rabbi Dr Herzog was born.”
A short history about a well-known rabbi in Ireland, which is fine, but then Berg ends with “This story is from Poland, where Rabbi Dr Herzog was born.” Nothing about how the story came to Ireland, who told it to her, and why it is relevant to Rabbi Herzog, besides the fact that it is from Poland (which, in and of itself, is very irrelevant). Most of the chapters are like this, and because of that, I feel that I haven’t learned anything.
It is a shame, really, as I haven’t found many other books like this – I only have one other in my library, but it is larger and less focused on one country. If this book could be republished with more thorough historical contexts added in, I would buy it and keep it in a heartbeat.
I don’t know if I will keep this book, if only for the stories. My recommendation is to just go online to find these stories and the history behind them, as I don’t feel that this book is worth it in its present state.
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I had planned to read 40 books in 2020, though I ended up only reading 28. I still think that’s pretty good though, considering the pandemic, stress, and finishing my degree as well as working part-time. I’ve reviewed all of the books I’ve read this year on this blog, so please feel free to read them if you haven’t already. For this post, here’s a list of the books I’ve read this year from my most to least favorite:
As you can see, I’ve discovered a new favorite author, Patricia A. McKillip. I have read these two novels of hers as well as her short stories, and I am so excited to explore more of her work. Her writing is magical and the characters are deep and feel so real.
None, I am happy to say!
I am starting 2021 in a bit of a depression, partly due to the pandemic and lockdown, and so my desire for reading is a bit lower than I’d like. However, it seems that audiobooks are what my slumpy mind can take right now, and I am taking full advantage of sites lie Scribd, Audible, and others. I have many physical books on my shelves that I do hope to get to at some point this year, but for now I am focusing on my mental health, and if that means audiobooks, then audiobooks it is.
Here is what is on my Scribd TBR for this year:
The House in the Cerulean Sea
by TJ Klune
The Widow’s House: A Novel
by Carol Goodman
by Lindsey Barraclough
2001: A Space Odyssey
by Arthur C. Clarke
The Girl With No Hands and other tales
By Angela Slatter
The Great God Pan and Other Weird Tales
by Arthur Machen
There are others on my Scribd list, but these are the ones I want to get to right away. Look out for reviews of these as I finish them! I wish everyone a good 2021 both for reading and for living.
This was my second Agatha Christie mystery ever, and I am so happy I read it. By The Pricking Of My Thumbs is book 4 of the Tommy and Tuppence mysteries, in which Tuppence goes on a journey to a small village to solve the mystery of a missing woman from her husband’s aunt’s retirement home. This mystery, however, unravels more than she was bargaining for.
This is one of her later books, and I very much like the writing style. The fact that it takes place in the 60s, later than her more known books, is actually kind of refreshing. I love the fact that Tommy and Tuppence are solving mysteries even as older folks, and I so want to be like Tuppence as I grow older, though maybe with less murder.
I’m not making this review too long as there is not much to analyze. It’s a fun mystery and I would recommend it to everyone.
I read half of the book in hardback, and listened to the latter half on audio via Scribd, with none other than Captain Hastings himself, Hugh Fraser, narrating.
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I also reviewed this book for Reedsy Discovery.
As a lover of folklore, I thought The Pine Barrens’ Devil would be right up my alley. In a way, it was.
Leigh Paynter tells four short stories that take place each in different historical periods, in which the Jersey Devil makes an appearance either as an instigator or one who passes judgment.
The first story, “Where Darkness Lives”, is Paynter’s own version of how the Jersey Devil came to be. Like most other origin stories, this one takes place in colonial New Jersey, and involves an unwanted or transformed child.
The second story, “A Long Walk”, takes place during the Revolutionary War. The protagonist, Whippany, not only gets lost in the Pine Barrens, but in the throes of his own desires.
The third story, “The Game”, very much illustrates the character of both the Pine Barrens and the Jersey Devil. They like to toy with travelers to the forest, especially those who deserve punishment. In this story, that person who deserves punishment is an antisemitic hustler looking after his girlfriend’s son, a chess genius. This story takes place soon after the end of WWII.
The fourth and final story is “Reflection in the Lake”, almost a reverse retelling of The Little Mermaid, though instead of a sea-witch, it is the Jersey Devil that causes the transformations. The protagonist, Emily, does get more than she bargained for when trying to impress her classmates on a camping trip, losing herself to Lake Absegami in the end.
All of these stories have to do with characters wanting more than they have bargained for, and the Jersey Devil is more than happy to comply with their wishes. I was familiar with some of the Jersey Devil folklore before reading this book, though it never occurred to me that the Jersey Devil would act more like the biblical devil, rather than a weird-looking cryptid that eats livestock and frightens travelers. I like this different take on the Jersey Devil, though it does make its character a bit less mysterious. I am eager to do more research about the Jersey Devil and the many versions of its folklore.
Now I want to discuss the aspects of this book that I liked.
Generally the stories are good and entertaining, and Paynter’s use of different historical eras really emphasizes that the Jersey Devil is a constant and frightening force of folklore.
I like that the stories were not too long, and did feel very much like campfire stories, as I believe Paynter had intended. Perhaps she will publish another collection of stories about the Jersey Devil, which I would be eager to read.
Unfortunately, there were quite a few aspects of this book that did not make it a 5-star read.
While the stories were good, the writing style could be improved upon. Paynter tells too much and shows too little, using statement after statement after statement. However, I am happy to say that this got better with each story. I think the stories’ writing style would have been more coherent if she had gone over each story again. Overall, I think Paynter just needs to practice her storytelling, and find the writing style that suits her best.
Grammar and spelling were off here and there, which further reinforces my statement that Paynter should have gone over her stories and writing more before publishing.
Overall, I did enjoy the stories, and I would recommend The Pine Barrens’ Devil to those who love folklore and the many aspects of this American cryptid.
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So a couple months ago I made a post about my Fall reading plans. They were ambitious, as I had 6 books on my TBR. The question, now that it is nigh on Winter, is: did I accomplish my Fall TBR?
The short answer is no, for a variety of reasons.
The first reason is that I just found other books that I wanted to read more. Now, this is not to say I will never read the books on my Fall TBR. I really want to finish The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I am currently halfway through By The Pricking Of My Thumbs, which I am thoroughly enjoying. I wasn’t able to get into some of the other books, though. Taaqtumi has some good stories in it, but not enough of them kept me interested. I wasn’t in the mood for romance, so A Dark And Twisting Path was put on the back-burner.
I also discovered that I can do reviews for Reedsy Discovery, and I want to start reading some books featured there. In addition to By The Pricking Of My Thumbs, I am currently reading The Pine Barrens Devil by Leigh Paynter, which I will have a review for in the next week or so.
The second reason for not succeeding with my set Fall TBR is that this recent lockdown that we’re in here in Manitoba has had me a little discouraged, and so it’s been hard to get into things like new books and TV. Thankfully, Agatha Christie and “Call The Midwife” have been absolute saviors.
Am I a failure for not doing my Fall TBR? Absolutely not, and neither are you if you are in the same boat as me. It takes a lot of commitment to stick to a reading list, especially right now when the times are so unpredictable. But also, you don’t have to read anything you don’t want to, and it’s okay if the reading list you set for yourself a month ago doesn’t fit with your mood now. There are so many wonderful books to read and sometimes it takes some flipping and flopping to find the right one.
Speaking of finding the right book, I just signed up for Likewise, an app and website that recommends books, movies, and other forms of entertainment to you, but also connects you with other bookworms to get great recommendations. I’ve gotten lots of good recs for ghost stories, that I hope to dig into very soon! And no, this is not a sponsor, I just like them very much!
I won’t be doing a Winter TBR just because things are very unpredictable and my mood has been so up and down that I can’t settle on a book to read in the future. I am very focused on the present, and that means finishing the books I’m already reading. However, I have looked at a lot of books that seem fun both on Likewise and Reedsy, so those may make an appearance here in the next few, and very cold, months.