All the Horses of Iceland is a fictional historical account of Eyvind, a man from Iceland who travels all the way to Mongolia and back in search of horses to trade and sell. During this journey, he encounters ghosts, and a magic horse that not only may ensure his survival on his way back to Iceland, but also the survival of the many horses that travel with him.
I went into this book expecting a lot more mythology than history, and so I was a bit disappointed at the lack of fantastical elements. I thought it was going to be a folk tale about the origins of horses in Iceland, which I guess this was, but still not enough mythos. What there was – ghosts and the folklore of lands foreign to the protagonist – I did appreciate. It was a lot of magical realism, which I also appreciate, using the beliefs of different peoples at the time to illustrate a strange happening in this man’s journey. However, instead of feeling like an origin story, it felt more like a short folk tale – unexpected, but welcomed nonetheless.
I did like the historical elements of this novella. I liked the diverse cast of characters that Eyvind meets: Jewish traders, many Khazars (most at war), some Rus (also at war), a Muslim poet, and, of course, a Khan of Mongolia. I thought that was very interesting, and illustrated the possible life of someone who lived during this time (around the Medieval period). I also loved the representation of languages in this novella. Tolmie does not actually write out languages foreign to the protagonist, but the way she has him experience them is a wonderful experience to read. He is appreciative, and not often upset that he doesn’t understand.
I’m glad I read this book, but again the lack of mythology does not make it a favorite. I know many will love it though for its history and characters.
I read a lot of LGBT+ short fiction, and a lot of these are hit or miss (many, many misses). But Coffee Boy was absolutely a hit for me. I haven’t read a lot of fiction that features a transgender protagonist, so I don’t know if I’m the proper authority as to whether this character was written well. However, I enjoyed this character – Kieran – very much. I also enjoyed his dynamic with the main love interest, Seth. You’ve got two, stubborn, queer men fighting all the sexual tension.
This is definitely a coming-of-age story as well, and it was interesting to read it through a transgender/queer perspective (that is a weird way to put it, but I’m not sure how else to at the moment). I really like how this story also shows that you can come of age at any time in your life.
I don’t have much more to say, except that this was a really sweet story, very well-written, and full of dynamic main characters.
I cannot believe how long it’s taken me to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I grew up with the Disney version, which definitely creeped me out as a kid (in a good way), and I watched the tv show (the recent one where Brom is the headless horseman). I was not prepared for how much better the original story was!
Firstly, the characters are so much worse than in any adaptation I’ve seen, and it is marvelous. If Ichabod Crane was alive today, he’d totally be an antivaxxer and use healing crystals. Brom is so much more of an asshole, but honestly he and Katrina Van Tassel truly deserve each other.
What I loved most, though, were the elements of folklore presented in this story. I’d heard of similar legends in many parts of the United States – the ghost of a grey or white woman wailing in the woods or a graveyard; witches in the woods and their ghosts; the ghosts of soldiers trying to find one missing body part or another. These are common stories, but the way Irving told them through the reception of the superstitious Ichabod Crane, made the legends come to life in dark and fastastical ways.
Now (kind of spoilers here but also not cause most know this story), it is very likely that Ichabod’s demise at the hands of the headless horseman were actually carried out by Brom and his friends, but it couldn’t be proved. And, truly, isn’t that how legends are born? Through speculation and superstition.
I really enjoyed this story, and it was very nice to listen to on audiobook – I listened to the narration of Anthony Heald, who did a fantastic job. It really is a story to listen to with a warm drink and under a cozy blanket, and maybe even in front of a fire on a chilly autumn night.
The Ghost Garden takes place just before the start of WWI. Fran is a young girl working with her father in the garden on the estate where they live. One day, Fran finds a bone in the garden. She thinks this is odd and mysterious, until more odd and mysterious things start to happen around the estate.
I wouldn’t call this a ghost story; rather, it is a coming-of-age story with ghosts in it. I really like how Emma Carroll portrays the mystery and childhood wonder in Fran’s explorations of the gardens and the mysteries they bring to her. There is a sense of whimsy, but also of fear as the mysteries turn into predictions of terrible things to come.
The writing is very beautiful. This is my first book by Carroll, but I am eager to read her other works (of which, I am happy to say, she seems to have many!). In this particular story, I get a lot of Secret Garden vibes, and, especially with the exploration of tombs and ghosts, I have ended up feeling very nostalgic for my own childhood. I usually don’t like war stories, but this one dealt with the impending war in a very healthy and subtle way.
I recommend this book to those who want some nostalgic feelings, and some sense of whimsy.
Bulwark is about a sheriff of a town in Georgia of the same name, named Clay, whose daughter was recently kidnapped, leaving his marriage and psyche in shambles. When a car accident leaves two people rambling about witches and stolen children, Clay starts to wonder if there is a connection to the kidnapping of his child.
As any of you know, I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, and for witches, so you can understand why I was drawn in by this book. I also love me a good novella. I would say this book started off very strong. It set a tragic scene, introduced a creepy, mysterious atmosphere that may or may not exist. The characters weren’t the strongest, but they played well in the atmosphere of the place. There was a good bit of folklore as well.
It’s a good, solid story, but I did have some issues:
I do think that the book might have been better if it was longer. Lunden tried to fit a lot into such a little book, and some of the lore and the exposition got a bit jumbled or lost. I know that there is an anthology that follows this novella, so maybe I will check that out and see if Lunden fleshed out any more of the story there.
There were also some tropes and themes in this story that were not bad by any means, but were possibly a little over-used. For example: the father whose child is either dead or missing and the marriage is failing; a witch that kidnaps children (although this I don’t mind, it was a pretty good Hansel and Gretel retelling).
The book has multiple endings, which, while different, both seemed to have been a bit rushed at the end, and the execution wasn’t the best. Again, I think if they had been written longer they would have been better.
All this said, it was a fun thriller, and I did have the creeps when I read it at night. It reminded me of the VVitch a little bit, though, unfortunately (spoilers) the witches don’t win in the end of this one.
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.
The Canterville Ghost is about an American family in the late 19th century that moves into Lord Canterville’s large and old home. However, the large house is haunted by Canterville’s ancestor, who tries to frighten the family away, or even to death! But this family isn’t to be scared away by a ghost, and is even intrigued by the historical mysteries it still carries.
I had known about this story before I read it, as I had watched a cartoon version of it when I was little, which had very minor differences. The Canterville Ghost is my first full Oscar Wilde reading (I’m still in the middle of Dorian Gray) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Oscar Wilde and a ghost story is the perfect combination. Using his artful language and wit, he is able to humorously tell the tale of an utter failure of a ghost even among the mysterious and beautifully-described gothic atmosphere of the house. The only thing I would wish to be different, at least a little bit, is the ending, which was nice, but I think I would have liked it to be more than just nice. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, however.
The Canterville Ghost is definitely up there with my favorite ghost stories, and Wilde’s way of telling ghost stories is wonderfully refreshing. I recommend this story to those who want some wit in a gothic setting. I listened to this book on Audible, and I very much enjoyed it as an audiobook.
After reading and loving Every Heart A Doorway, I was eager to read more of Seanan McGuire’s other works. So when I saw she had written prequels to that first book, I jumped right in. This prequel is about Jack and Jill, who went through a chest into another world. The former became a scientist’s apprentice, the latter the adopted daughter of a vampire as mysterious and powerful as the legendary Count himself.
I won’t say too much about the plot of Down Among the Sticks and Bones, as a lot of it is explained in Every Heart A Doorway. The reason for this is also because I wasn’t too keen on the story. It explained the background of why Jack and Jill were the way they were in the first book, but other than that it was nothing special. What really had me hooked to this book, though, was McGuire’s writing, which continues to be amazing. It is poetic, full of wonderful imagery, and her characters seem almost alive.
I listened to this book on Scribd for day 3 of this year’s Reading Rush.
The Changeling Sea is about Peri, a girl who hates and fears the sea, and yet finds herself entwined in its movements and intentions. She meets a prince who longs for the sea, a sea-dragon that longs for the land, and a wizard that, along with Peri, knows more secrets than they care to tell.
McKillip was inspired by classic changeling stories to write this tale, and she does it magnificently. In this case we meet two changelings, one trapped on land that belongs in the sea, and one trapped in the sea that belongs on land. Peri acts as the liaison between the land and sea, herself almost a changeling, though enchantress is more like it, especially since she follows patterns of enchantresses that McKillip often engages, like Sybel from The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.
What I love as well as the changeling themes and the poetic descriptions of the sea, are the fairytale references. Images of Swan Lake and the Seven (sometimes Six) Swans come to mind when looking at the changeling princes, and Peri fits the well-known trope of hermit witch who guides heroes on their journeys. Peri does find love in the end though, through romance, friendship, and the love between a mother and a daughter.
McKillip once again did not disappoint, and I may like this book even better than the last one I read. I recommend to all who love and fear the sea with all its mystery, depth, and magic.
This novella is a deep, fantastical read, full of myth and history, which I believe is based on Chinese history and myth. It is also about stories and storytelling; memory; female companionship in all senses of the term; the role women play. The last one is really what makes this novella. The women in this book define their own roles, from the Empress herself, to Rabbit, the Empress’ confidant and teller of her story. In the end it is Rabbit’s listener, Cleric Chih, who will go on to remember and retell the stories.
The book starts off slow, and a bit confusing. The history is the core of the story, though we as readers, as well as Chih, do not understand this until well into the story. That is okay though, as it gives the reader the sense that we are indeed listening to a complicated past unfold itself, and that we are now the storytellers. It reminds us that all is stories, and we must continue such a tradition.
I recommend The Empress of Salt and Fortune to those who love historical high fantasy, similar to books like The Black Tides of Heaven and The Encyclopedia of Early Earth.