fairy tale

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

Published July 29, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Bloody Chamber all about?:

This story follows our female narrator as she marries a wealthy French Marquis and discovers the secrets lurking in his castle.

What did I think?:

Full disclosure, I have already reviewed The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories by Angela Carter some time ago on my blog however when I realised the title story of that collection was the next story in Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women I jumped at the chance to review it individually and in more detail. I have a lingering memory of the events in this little tale and in fact, it remains so far my very favourite Angela Carter short story so as you can imagine, I can already highly recommend it. Angela Carter never fails to blow me away with her proficiency of the English language and her stark, poetic choice of words and phrases. Re-reading this story gave me the perfect opportunity to enjoy her talent even more as I already knew how it was all going to play out in the end. I could simply sit back and just enjoy a true master at work.

Angela Carter, author of The Bloody Chamber
From the Fay Godwin Archive at the British Library

The Bloody Chamber, like the rest of the stories in the collection of the same name is based on an old fairy-tale but I’m afraid I couldn’t possibly tell you which one. It would give away simply far too many details! I can tell you it involves a seventeen year old girl who marries a rich man and is spirited away to his castle to begin married life. She has her doubts about her new husband, particularly when she finds out he has been married three times before but he is prepared to give her everything she could ever dream of, including a grand piano on which she can indulge her one obsession, playing music. It’s not long however, as she explores the castle when her husband is away on business that she discovers his greatest secret and everything from here on will never be the same again.

I have to admit, this story does start off a little slow. It’s one of Angela Carter’s longer works of short fiction I’ve experienced so far and it takes a while to set the scene with our heroine mainly describing her relationship with her mother, nurse and the beginnings of the relationship with her husband to be. We get a sense of a very naive, innocent young girl at first who then quickly realises the ways of the world when she comes across some pornographic images in her husband’s library on first entering the castle. It’s not until this point that the story really starts to kick into gear and the reader begins to understand the kind of situation that our protagonist may have entered into.

As always, Angela Carter’s writing is nothing short of exquisite and each word appears to have been lusciously chosen to illustrate impending doom and the hopelessness of our main character’s mood. From the choker of rubies round the young wife’s neck to the way she describes her husband i.e. comparing him to a lily and wearing a mask that she wishes she could remove so she could see the real man underneath, everything is told in such glorious detail it’s an absolute pleasure to experience and makes for an shocking, unforgettable story. I do understand that some people might not gel with Carter’s style, particularly if you’re not a fan of magical realism but if you haven’t read any of the author’s work before this is one of the most perfect places to start. It’s a shining example of her writing, it’s not too “out there” or quirky and it’s immensely readable.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Underhouse by Gerard Woodward from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Some Drolls Are Like That And Some Are Like This by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

Published July 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Some Drolls Are Like That And Some Are Like This all about?:

This story follows a wandering story teller as he takes a couple of tourists on a tour around his local area, telling old stories along the way.

What did I think?:

As the final story in this collection, I have to admit I was expecting something quite majestic. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite end on the note I was anticipating – rather than Notes From The House Spirits which I thoroughly enjoyed, I found myself rather underwhelmed by the story chosen to be the finale of the entire collection. Of course, there is no denying the magical, whimsical nature of Lucy Wood’s writing and as always, I appreciated the nod to Cornish folklore and her ability to spout words like poetry but compared to other stories I’ve read by her, this was rather a damp squib in comparison.

Lucy Wood, author of the short story collection Diving Belles.

Due to the quirky nature of Lucy’s writing, I’m struggling to describe what exactly this story is about in more than a few sentences but I’ll try my best. It follows a droll (Cornish word for a travelling story teller), who comes across two tourists willing to pay him for a tour and to tell stories along the way – old legends, ghostly happenings and the like. As he’s often homeless and uncertain of where his next meal is coming from, he gladly agrees but during the tour he begins to realise something is seriously wrong. Although he is suggested to have one hundred years experience of the town, its people and its tall tales, he can’t seem to remember any of the stories he once knew so well in any great detail. Images keep coming to his mind of things that might have happened, some of them horrific (or are they just stories?) and he appears to be getting quite befuddled about how much of his knowledge is fact and how much is fiction.

Beautiful Cornwall, the inspiration and setting for the stories in this collection.

So, I finished the story about ten minutes ago and knew I’d have to write my review immediately as I would lose track of what it was actually about. Not much more goes on than what I told you and to be perfectly honest, the ending was so abrupt, I’m finding it difficult to recall what actually happened. Lucy Wood has a bit of a pattern with ending her stories quite suddenly, often without resolution or answers and most of the time, I find this works really well but there’s other times where you just wonder what the whole point was in the first place.

This story isn’t bad, by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve certainly read a lot worse and I must stress that the writing is truly beautiful. I loved the way that the droll is compared to a tree, even his skin beginning to resemble the furrows of wood and later on, he finds moss in his fingernails which also harks back to the symbolism of a tree. Is he really as old as he is? Who knows? There’s a lot of magical realism thematically throughout this collection and it’s quite conceivable that he could be a different entity that has known a man who fought in the Napoleonic Wars as he suggests. I think the problem with this story for me was that I just didn’t feel anything for it. It didn’t move me, I didn’t connect with the characters and sadly, I just didn’t really “get” what the author was trying to say.

Overall, if you enjoy magical realism and stories steeped in folklore this is a great collection as a whole, it’s just a shame I gravitated towards other tales other than this one.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

Happily – Chauncey Rogers

Published June 10, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

If the shoe fits, wear it.
If it doesn’t, 
make it.

Laure is a teenage street urchin just trying to get away. Where the rest of the world sees an enchanting love story, Laure sees royal incompetence and an opportunity to exploit it. She’ll have wealth and a way out of a life she detests, if she can only manage to hoodwink the royal family and survive to tell the tale.

SYNOPSIS FROM GOODREADS

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the author, Chauncey Rogers for getting in touch via email and asking me if I’d like to read a copy of Happily in exchange for an honest review. I’ve been very selective recently about the books I accept, as some of you might know I have an enormous backlog/TBR and I’m trying to only say “yes” to those novels that I’m genuinely excited about. Apologies as well to Chauncey for getting this review out so late, I’m afraid that life kind of got in the way as it tends to do! Anyway, why was I initially so excited about Happily? Well, as a huge fan of fairy-tale retellings, Happily is an alternate version of that classic fairy tale, Cinderella so getting round to reading this was kind of a no brainer – it HAD to happen. The actual experience of reading it was thoroughly enjoyable, I adored the main characters, particularly our female lead, Laure and the plot itself was so compelling that I whizzed through it in merely a couple of hours on an otherwise very dull long haul flight!

Chauncey Rogers, author of the YA novel, Happily.

What can I say that hasn’t already been said in that short but remarkably adequate synopsis above? This is the story of Laure, independent and a little bit wild, who survives on her wits and from stealing what she needs from market stalls. She lives her life day by day, perfectly happy in her own company but haunted by an event in her past which has led her to be isolated and very distrustful of others. This is until one of her jaunts to the market leads to a meeting with a young man called Luc which in turn, leads to her being very much in his debt. Ever the chameleon, Laure ends up convincing Luc to join her in the ultimate heist to fool the royal family which involves, you guessed it, becoming the girl who the glass slipper fits and marrying the prince.

Disney’s Cinderella – the image which some of us may connect to this story.

So as you might have guessed by now, Happily is ever so slightly different from the original fairy-tale of Cinderella! Obviously, it does have something in common – a poor girl in search of a better life and the hunt for a mysterious woman at a ball who left behind a glass slipper as the only means of identifying her. That’s pretty much where the similarity ends however there are a few other themes that run in parallel that I can’t really talk about for fear of spoiling Chauncey’s brilliant story. The massive, glaring difference here is that our heroine, Laure was never at the ball in the first place, she is a street urchin and thief with a sassy, fiery personality and she doesn’t take any nonsense whatsoever! She strikes up an endearing relationship with Luc where they butt heads considerably during their adventures but grow to develop a deep admiration and respect for one another by what they go through together.

I adored both Laure and Luc individually and as a couple, they were both relatable personalities that readers could empathise with and despite each of their own hardships, they both had hearts of gold and would never intentionally hurt anyone else. I was especially enamoured with Laure – what a fantastic, hot-headed and brave girl she was! I was fascinated by her attitude to life and was constantly intrigued to discover what had happened in her life to make her heart so seemingly impenetrable at the beginning of the story. As a piece of young adult fiction, I would recommend this story to anyone who enjoys the genre, fairy tale re-tellings with a difference and dynamic, very readable characters.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Bear And The Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) – Katherine Arden

Published February 25, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

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.

What did I think?:

The Bear And The Nightingale was the second book in my Five Star TBR Predictions and who couldn’t fail to be seduced by that gorgeous cover? It was not only the cover that drew me to this story however, it was the promise of Russian folklore and fairy-tale elements which I always adore in a novel and in recent books I have read, have been executed to perfection. The Bear and The Nightingale was no exception, it’s a slow burner of a book but this does not in any way affect how compelling it is and the sheer magnificence of the characters, particularly our female lead, Vasya made this book all the more special to me. I was delighted to discover it’s going to be part of a trilogy and have already got my sticky fingers on the second book in the series, to be read hopefully very soon.

Our main character, Vasilisa is raised in the Russian wilderness with her family, surrounded by the spirits that dwell in the woods and the creatures that help out around the house in return for treats. In the freezing temperatures, our fiesty and independent Vasya likes nothing more than snuggling round the oven at night with her siblings, being raised upon the old Russian tales of her nurse and causing a little bit of trouble when she deigns to go off exploring on her own as a young child with a headstrong and determined nature. Sadly, her mother dies and her father brings home a new wife to be “mother” to Vasya and the rest of the family.

It soon becomes apparent that her stepmother, Anna is incredibly religious and they don’t really see eye to eye, particularly considering the more spiritual beliefs of Vasya and her fellow villagers. Armed with the protection of the new priest to the area, Anna formulates a plan to rid the village of their superstitious beliefs and perhaps also get rid of Vasya, the thorn in her side, in the process. However, Anna has not accounted for the fact that there may be a grain of truth in the local legends and the further she pushes these other-worldly creatures away, the easier it is for darkness to creep in.

I won’t say too much more about the plot but rest assured, there is so much going on in this novel than you initially expect. The writing is lyrical and delicious but the reason why I loved this book so much had to be the character of Vasya. I loved her stubbornness, her desire to be different, her strength and bravery… I could go on. She was the perfect female protagonist and I adored her journey from a young, precocious child to a determined young woman who sticks to her beliefs and the advice from her gentle, loyal nurse. I touched on a little bit of Russian folklore in a book I read fairly recently, Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente and it was lovely to come across some more in The Bear And The Nightingale which in comparison, I felt I could picture much more vividly.

The only reason why I haven’t given this book five stars (and it was very close indeed) was that I felt the story became a little confusing at times when Vasya visited Morozko and occasionally I didn’t understand the symbolism behind what was going on. However, this is a beautifully atmospheric story to read, especially in the winter months and you can really feel the Russian ice and snow through writing that is nothing short of magical. As the UK prepare themselves for some cold air coming across from Siberia this week, perhaps it’s the perfect time to pick it up?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

Published February 22, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For readers of The Night Circus and Station Eleven, a lyrical and absorbing debut set in a world covered by water.

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives – offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.

What did I think?:

Every fibre of my being has been wanting to pick this book up ever since I saw the gorgeous cover art on the hardback copy and read the synopsis that mentions Scottish myths/fairytales – er, yes please! This book couldn’t be more “me,” and I was delighted when the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium recommended it to me when Chrissi Reads and I had one of their fantastic reading spas. Yet still I put off reading this book and waited AND waited. Sometimes I worry too much that I’m not going to enjoy a novel as much as I think I should and as a result, delay reading it just in case it doesn’t live up to my very lofty expectations. Well, that’s just silly because once I eventually forced myself to pick it up, I adored it. This whimsical, fantastical tale is perfect for any fans of magical realism but above all, the language is so beautifully perfect that it just flows smoothly over you as you read it, making it a very special reading experience.

Primarily, we are following two main characters – North who works as part of a travelling circus on the seas as the mysterious “bear-girl” and Callenish, an ethereal young woman who carries out burials at sea, helping the dead find rest. The story is set in an almost dystopian universe where the seas have taken over the majority of the planet with only small spots of land remaining. The people who live in this world either live on the sea and are referred to as “damplings” or live on the land as “landlockers,” with the two types rarely mixing together except for business purposes.

We follow North and her bear as she nurses a tremendous secret and carries out her duties as a performer (although taking care of her beloved bear is key). The ring-master Jarrow, has plans for North and she must struggle to convince him that she shouldn’t marry his son whilst trying to avoid enraging Jarrow’s pregnant wife, Avalon who has her own axe to grind. Then we see the supreme loneliness of Callenish, banished to an island by herself for a terrible mistake in her past to carry out the role of Gracekeeper with only her own thoughts and the Graces, birds that she uses in the burying ritual, for company. Both young women have more in common than they think and after a freak storm one night, their destinies are brought together with surprising consequences for all.

I don’t want to give anything else away, I just want to assure you of the beauty of this book. If like me, you love your fairy-tale elements and a quirky, one of a kind narrative, you should really seek out this book. I loved the mixture of dystopia with fantasy and thought each character, even the minor players in the tale were developed so particularly that each one could have had a whole story to themselves. Of course, it was the two main ladies who took the biggest piece of my heart but characters like Avalon, the pregnant wife on a mission to get whatever she wants (never mind anyone else!) and the clowns also made for fascinating reading. Furthermore, the author goes into so much detail about certain events, especially in Callenish’s past that I didn’t expect and made me incredibly emotional. Basically, The Gracekeepers isn’t just a re-run of The Night Circus/Station Eleven, it is a wonderful tale that stands on its own, rightly on its own merits and there are delightful surprises around every corner.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan is the fourteenth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Dibblespin by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

Published February 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Dibblespin all about?:

Dibblespin follows the relationship of two very different sisters with themes of jealousy, revenge and betrayal.

What did I think?:

Sourdough And Other Stories couldn’t be a more “me” short story collection even if it tried. Rooted in fairy tales with quite a modern twist, I’ve enjoyed every single story I’ve read so far and that’s hugely surprising as generally in a collection, there’s a couple of stories that perhaps don’t speak to you as much as others. Dibblespin is another corker and like the previous tales, has a cracker of an ending that will make you want to go right back to the beginning and start all over again. When I’m reading Sourdough And Other Stories, I feel like I’ve slipped into a deliciously different world, filled with fairy-tale creatures, magical moments and as always, with the best fairy-tales, a snicker of darkness.

This story follows Dibblespin and her half-sister Ingrid who have a close relationship despite coming from quite a fractured family situation and being very different physically speaking. Ingrid is your archetypal beautiful little girl, beloved and used to getting everything she wants purely because of the way she looks. Dibblespin is, well…she is a magical creature who is not blessed with conventional beauty but boasts a sunny personality and a kind-hearted nature, dotes on her sister and enjoys spending time with her. Ingrid is no stranger to heartache and has lost all the parental figures in her life, although they sort of stick around in animal form near the house to keep an eye on her. This is particularly true of her mother, Olwen who spends most of her time in wolf form and has reared a human/wolf pack all of her own in the wild. Olwen is furious about the relationship between her daughter and Dibblespin, mainly because Dibblespin is the daughter forged from her husband’s betrayal and is determined that Ingrid should make a choice about where her loyalties really lie.

Dibblespin was a wonderful little story and like the others in this collection, the author has written the fantastical element just wonderfully. I adored the independent, yet soft nature of Dibblespin and felt she really came into her own as the narrative continued, particularly at the spectacular ending. Of course, the “evil stepmother,” addition is always welcome in any fairy tale and Olwen was a wickedly brilliant character to whisper theatrical boo’s at from the comfort of your sofa! I’m also now starting to see connections between the other stories in Sourdough and when I researched a bit deeper on the web, I learned that Ingrid and Dibblespin’s father has created quite a few children in this collection (what a philanderer!) and Olwen is actually the baby Patience Sykes rescues in the story Gallowberries. I don’t think I’ve ever read a collection like this, where there are links to other stories in each individual story and I find it thoroughly fascinating. I’m really excited to get to the next story in the collection and see if I can spot any more subtle connections!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Remmy Rothstein Toes The Line by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles #3.5) – Marissa Meyer

Published November 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

What did I think?:

The Lunar Chronicles is one of my arguments for giving a series another shot. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the first book in the series, Cinder but I was persuaded to carry on and after Scarlet and Cress, I became quite the fan. Fairest is another fantastic addition to the world that Marissa Meyer has created and is in fact, a novella that should ideally be read between the third book, Cress and just before the final book in the series, Winter. I don’t think you should feel obligated to read this short tale (I know not everyone loves novellas) and you won’t miss out on anything important but personally, I thought it really brought something special to the series as a whole and if you have the opportunity and the inclination to read it you definitely should!

I say you won’t miss anything if you choose not to read it because in Fairest we actually travel back to the past, more specifically the past of Queen Levana, following her childhood and adolescence with absent, cold parents and the events that precipitated the horrific accident she had which leads her to hide her true self away from others by using glamour. I don’t really want to say too much about what happens in her life but the reader certainly comes to understand why she has become such a wicked, calculating villain in the most recent novels. Levana certainly goes through some harrowing experiences which may even lead to you feeling some sympathy for her as a character but in fact, it is the way that she deals with these issues and wreaks her revenge that leaves you with little hope for her redemption.

This was such a fascinating insight into the heart and mind of the Lunar Chronicles’ most despised villain and even though it is brief, at merely 222 pages, it packs an almighty lot of action, intrigue and emotion into those pages making it feel much “meatier,” as a result. I love to hate Queen Levana in this series but I was so impressed how Marissa Meyer managed to elicit my pity and sympathy at points in the narrative when she faced certain trials in her life. Not for long, mind you. By the end, she was completely back to the mean, nasty and despicable character that we know and appreciate from the full-length novels in the series. I just have to mention the cover art as well for this series which is truly magnificent and was a huge factor in me picking up these books in the first place. The Lunar Chronicles is due to finish with the final novel, Winter which I’m eagerly anticipating but have to admit to feeling a bit sad realising this is soon all going to be over! Until the re-read that is.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0