fairy tale

All posts tagged fairy tale

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Gallowberries by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Published May 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Gallowberries all about?:

Gallowberries is about a young woman who has recently lost her mother. Both women are witches and this story focuses on how the daughter manages to take care of herself as she learns more about her own powers.

What did I think?:

I can already tell that this short story collection has the potential to be the most fantastic one I’ve ever read and I’m only two stories in. The first story, The Shadow Tree had me falling completely under the author’s spell and Gallowberries was much the same. It encompasses everything I love in a story – a bit of fantasy, a lot of fairy tale, beautiful lyrical writing and the edge of darkness to make something that is so wonderful to read that you are sorry when you reach the final page as you just want it to go on forever. A huge thank you again to the lovely Fiction Fan for recommending this author and this particular collection, I’m one hundred percent bowled over by it.

Gallowberries is almost like a novella in itself. Not length wise, as it’s regular short story length but the amount of time and events it covers is epic in scale and you almost feel you are seeing a large portion of someone’s life, written in Angela Slatter’s inimitable style that gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling inside. The story involves a young woman called Patience whom when we meet her is admiring the apples growing on a tree that are managing to flourish with a little help from her magical powers. It is while she is looking at the fruit that she happens to notice a handsome man who speaks to her causing her to fall. This is Gideon Cotton who she ends up getting to know romantically (although sadly for her he is never planning to introduce her to his family or indeed marry her….he has a more “suitable” wife-to-be all lined up!).

However, little does Gideon know but Patience is already very familiar with him and his family. He is desperately seeking a witch that murdered some of his family, poisoned others through the wells, cursed cows to be barren and ensured that fields propagated dead crops. Patience is well aware of this as she is the witch he is seeking. In her mind, she had good reasons for revenge. Her mother was due to be hanged for witchcraft by his family and at the last minute she escaped by using the magical properties of gallowberries. This does mean that Patience is unable to see her anymore as she has passed over to another world where Patience cannot follow. With the help of her new friend, Dowsabel who takes Patience in when she is destitute and has nowhere else to go, Patience begins to use her magic for good and see hope and happiness in her life again. Nevertheless, this is an Angela Slatter fairy tale….a happy ending is not guaranteed and with the threat of Gideon finding out who she really is always a concern, Patience may have to call on her dark powers again to ensure her survival.

Loved, loved, loved this story. As I mentioned before, it is a truly epic narrative with so much content, action, heartbreak and sorrow jammed into a relatively short space of time but the brilliant thing is, it never feels rushed or “too much.” The fairy tale-esque nature of Angela Slatter’s writing is always a bonus but she always chooses such strong and interesting female characters like Patience herself and her friend Dowsabel whom I found fascinating to read about and indeed, ended up fully championing despite the questionable things that Patience had done in the name of revenge. Also, the darkness. Oh, it’s incredibly dark! Some of the things that occur might make you cringe, may make you squirm but it’s such amazing storytelling that you simply cannot look away before you find out how it all ends. So far, the two stories in this collection I’ve read have been incredibly strong and if this is an indicator of how the collection is going to continue, I’ve got many more treats in store. Is Angela Slatter a new favourite author? You’re goddamn right she is!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Thorn In My Side by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3) – Marissa Meyer

Published October 21, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In this third book in Marissa Meyer’s bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl trapped on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s being forced to work for Queen Levana, and she’s just received orders to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is splintered. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price than she’d ever expected. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai, especially the cyborg mechanic. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

What did I think?:

Isn’t it strange how your opinion on a series can change so much from the first book? Mine certainly has. Not saying I didn’t enjoy Cinder, the first book in the Lunar Chronicles but it wasn’t a series I saw myself continuing. If it wasn’t for my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads assuring me how great the second book, Scarlet was, I probably wouldn’t have carried on! I’m ever so glad I did, because the world that Marissa Meyer has created is truly magical and each book in the series just keeps getting better and better.

Each book is loosely based on a fairy tale (and has the most fabulous covers known to man). So, with the first book it was Cinderella quite obviously, the second Little Red Riding Hood and in this third offering, Cress could otherwise be known as Rapunzel. She is an employee of Queen Levana, villain extraordinaire and a talented hacker for Luna. Levana has kept her isolated on a satellite for her entire life with her only point of human contact being Sybil, Levana’s head thaumaturge/flunkey. As a result, Cress is incredibly naive, quite socially awkward and desperately in need of friends and her freedom.

See where I’m going with this? Cinder, Captain Thorne, Scarlet, Wolf and Iko are all rattling around in a spaceship on the run from the evil Queen Levana and her dastardly plans (which I’m not saying anything about for fear of spoiling the series for anyone who hasn’t started it yet!). They immediately mount a mission to rescue Cress from her lonely, humdrum existence, guessing that her talents with I.T. could make her quite valuable to them in the future… Of course, this wouldn’t be an adventure if things didn’t go slightly haywire along the way and they do, for a number of our characters which could affect the whole game plan of overthrowing Queen Levana, preventing her hideous marriage to the wonderful Prince Kai and clearing the way for the rightful ruler of Luna to take the throne.

This book is quite a hefty, meaty read at nearly 600 pages but please don’t let the size put you off, it was so action-packed that I seemed to read it in no time at all. I’m loving the mixture of characters that the author is producing, they’re all so endearing in their own ways and I’m beginning to appreciate each one for what they bring to the narrative: Cinder and her burgeoning leadership skills, Thorne with his wicked sense of humour, Scarlet for her fiesty attitude and Cress for her sweet innocence. Then BAM! right at the end, we get introduced to a new character that will play a prominent role in the next novel – Princess Winter who appears to be all kinds of crazy but utterly bewitching. I literally cannot wait to see how this series is going to pan out.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Gingerbread – Robert Dinsdale

Published September 20, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Fairy tale and history, wilderness and civilisation collide in this brilliant and magical new novel from the author of Little Exiles.

In the depths of winter in the land of Belarus, where ancient forests straddle modern country borders, an orphaned boy and his grandfather go to scatter his mother’s ashes in the woodlands. Her last request to rest where she grew up will be fulfilled.

Frightening though it is to leave the city, the boy knows he must keep his promise to mama: to stay by and protect his grandfather, whatever happens. Her last potent gifts – a little wooden horse, and hunks of her homemade gingerbread – give him vigour. And grandfather’s magical stories help push the harsh world away.

But the driving snow, which masks the tracks of forest life, also hides a frozen history of long-buried secrets. And as man and boy travel deeper among the trees, grandfather’s tales begin to interweave with the shocking reality of his own past, until soon the boy’s unbreakable promise to mama is tested in unimaginable ways.

What did I think?:

This is the first book of Robert Dinsdale’s that I’ve read and picked up this copy from a wonderful Oxfam charity shop near Tottenham Court Road in London where the synopsis immediately intrigued me and begged to be bought and devoured. I love fairy tales, fairy tale re-imaginings, alternative fairy tales… you name it. Just the mere mention of the word fairy tale will ensure it gets put in my basket and after reading lots of positive reviews of this novel on Good Reads, I was eager to get stuck in and form my own opinion. Gingerbread is like nothing I’ve ever read before and although fairy tales play a huge part in this novel, it’s not your average “happily ever after” read. If I had to compare it to something, I would probably choose Roald Dahl’s version of Cinderella from his Revolting Rhymes book (not entirely sure why!) except that the story is incredibly unsettling and plays on your mind long after the book has been closed.

Our narrator for Gingerbread is a young boy (unnamed at least in the beginning) who has moved in with his grandfather (known as Papa) in Belarus with his mother who is herself dying of cancer. Before she passes away, the boy’s mother manages to extract two promises from her son. One, that he will scatter her ashes in the forest by the cottage where she used to live in her childhood and two, most importantly, that he will look after his grandfather, no matter what. Unfortunately, the boy is about to discover how hard it is going to be to keep these promises to his mother. Papa is hugely reluctant to go into the forest but after a lot of pestering the boy manages to persuade him to go there so that he can fulfil part one of his mother’s wishes.

The problem is, now that Papa has arrived in the forest at his old cottage, he becomes increasingly loath to leave it again which is okay at the start as the two ensconce themselves safely within the house. The boy has always enjoyed the magical stories his papa tells him and indeed he seems to have a gift for luring the listener deep within a time where a Winter King wars against enemies of the West. It is not long however before everything slowly begins unravelling leading to the cottage being abandoned, the two living in make-shift shelters in the woods and practically starving and the stories that Papa tells becoming more frightening erring on the monstrous. The boy stops going to school and is filthy, thin and very concerned about the transformation he sees day by day in his grandfather’s character. The lines between fiction and reality become blurred and when a family with a girl called Elenya moves into the cottage it could be a desperately needed lifeline to bring the boy and his grandfather back to civilisation. Or, it could be very dangerous for them all.

This was such an intriguing novel and definitely not what I expected when I first picked it up. I loved the way in which the author used historical fiction blended in with fantasy and even at some points horror, to create a mish-mash of genres that fit so perfectly in this unique story. It’s a fairy tale yes, but a very different one and I really enjoyed the pockets of darkness that Robert Dinsdale placed within the narrative to illustrate a descent in mental health that takes the characters back to their very basic selves. I think the phrase “survival of the fittest,” definitely applies to this story and there are certain depths you think as an individual you would never stoop to but perhaps when your life is on the line, this attitude no longer holds weight and you have to fight to stay alive.

For some parts of the novel, you have to suspend your disbelief which wasn’t a problem for me personally but I can understand why some people may find it difficult or too unbelievable. In this way I thought Papa was a fantastic character and loved exploring his murky depths but my heart also bled for the boy who at the end of the day is just trying to keep his beloved mother’s last wishes and look after his grandfather. The addition of Elenya was also a nice choice, bringing new life to the story and it was interesting to follow her growing relationship with the “wild boy.” This book probably isn’t for you if you like your endings all wrapped up with a little bow and everyone living in harmony together – it’s incredibly dark and twisty and will play with your mind for days after finishing it. However if you’re a big fan of the darkness and subtle horror like me, read this book immediately (and maybe don’t go into the woods on your own).

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Short Stories Challenge – Small Degrees by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Published August 29, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Small Degrees all about?:

Small Degrees is about a man who works hard to develop his own typing face but risks losing his wife as a result.

What did I think?:

Kevin Brockmeier is such a beautiful writer, even if I’m not keen on the story he is trying to tell I always appreciate the dream-like quality of his writing with absolutely stunning sentences. Small Degrees starts almost like a fairy tale where we see a young child growing up staring at books in his parents library. His parents are desperate that he shouldn’t become a “fool” when they see him looking at blank pages, so decide that finding a trade is the best thing for him. He becomes apprentice at a typing foundry, a job which turns out to suit him very well as he loves staring at the letters that are being produced, much like when he was a child.

The story progresses quite smoothly, much like our characters life. He marries, has a few children, raises them to adulthood until they leave the family home. Throughout all this he works tirelessly at the foundry until he retires and stays at home. It seems that he cannot let this part of his life go as he suddenly decides that he should make a typeface of his own. Again from morning until night he works until his hands are black and stained from the ink to make the perfect letters for his new alphabet:

“He wanted to design a typeface that would recall his hours of childhood watching m’s and n’s and commas that read as fluidly as the swaying of long grass in the wind; b’s and d’s, p’s and q’s, like lampposts reflected in a pool of water. He was willing to work gradually, assembling and re-examining each stroke of each character, the hairline of a V or the wedded bowls of a lowercase g, over a period of several days.”

I love that paragraph, it’s a perfect example of Brockmeier’s lyrical prose, especially how he describes the letters i.e. g with the wedded bowls, it’s truly beautiful and I could read it over and over again. Meanwhile, while our narrator has been working his fingers to the bone, his poor wife is feeling rather neglected. She had always kept his house clean, looked after the children, cooked his dinner etc and had already been feeling pangs of loneliness since the children left when all the housework had been done and she had nothing to do but wait for her husband. She was hoping that when he retired they would spend some more time together and now he is spending all his time developing a new type face she feels pushed to the side and tells him so in no uncertain terms. In the end, exasperated by his lack of communication she leaves him. How our narrator deals with this and realises what he has lost is written with such subtlty by the author that it almost broke my heart. The house becomes dirty, our narrator does not look after himself properly but since his heart is only given away in “small degrees,” his loneliness and love for his wife comes out in his work. It might take a bit of magic to bring them both together again.

This is such a gorgeous story, I can’t rave on enough about the beautiful language – you get it, right? After I finished this story I immediately had to read it again just to read it a bit slower and appreciate every single word as it should be read. I liked it even more on the second reading as with other stories in this collection and believe the author has a real talent for poetic phrasing and word arranging, if that makes any sense? I can’t wait to read the next story in this collection.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Airshow by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

 

Gretel And The Dark – Eliza Granville

Published May 30, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A dark, distinctive and addictively compelling novel set in fin-de-siècleVienna and Nazi Germany—with a dizzying final twist.

Vienna, 1899. Josef Breuer—celebrated psychoanalyst—is about to encounter his strangest case yet. Found by the lunatic asylum, thin, head shaved, she claims to have no name, no feelings—to be, in fact, not even human. Intrigued, Breuer determines to fathom the roots of her disturbance.

Years later, in Germany, we meet Krysta. Krysta’s Papa is busy working in the infirmary with the ‘animal people,’ so little Krysta plays alone, lost in the stories of Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper, and more. And when everything changes and the world around her becomes as frightening as any fairy tale, Krysta finds her imagination holds powers beyond what she could have ever guessed. . . .

Eliza Granville has had a life-long fascination with the enduring quality of fairytales and their symbolism, and the idea for Gretel and the Dark was sparked when she became interested in the emphasis placed on these stories during the Third Reich.

What did I think?:

I’m a bit of a sucker for a fairy-tale as some of you will know so when I saw this book in the Oxfam bookshop in Tottenham Court Road (fantastic bookshop by the way) I couldn’t resist buying it. What I wasn’t expecting was a story that profoundly moved me bringing me close to tears on more than one occasion. There are two story-lines for the reader to follow in this novel, the first is set in 1899 where psycho-analyst Josef Breuer comes across the strangest case of his life. A young woman is found in the streets by one of his house-keepers naked and half-starved with a shaved head and tattoos on one of her arms, appearing dreadfully confused. Josef takes her into his house, calling her Lilie and after some time and on further examination she claims that she is in fact a machine with only one purpose, to rid the world of a certain “evil.” Josef is fascinated and intrigued by her and despite the protests of his maid Gudrun who views Lilie with suspicion (and perhaps jealousy?) he continues to keep her in his house to study her more closely. The longer she stays the more mesmerised he becomes by her strange beauty. However, danger is afoot as a relationship develops between her and one of his staff while tension, trouble and anti-semitism mounts in the city.

The second thread in the story is set years later and involves a young girl called Krysta who is incredibly spoiled and selfish and leads the poor house-keeper in charge of her care a merry dance attempting to keep her under control. Her father works locally as a doctor in a place Krysta knows as “a zoo for the animal people,” and with her mother being dead, Krysta is left in the care of a maid called Greet who fills her head with grim and quite frightening fairy-tales that seem to be the only way of ensuring her good behaviour. One day, Krysta happens to meet a young boy about her own age who is a member of her fathers “zoo,” and he is desperately hungry. Krysta cruelly mocks him as he searches the earth for worms to eat but when a disastrous event occurs in Krysta’s life she soon understands what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence.

I’m so glad I picked this book up, Eliza Granville has a way of writing that is dark and emotive which makes it incredibly compelling to read. With a beautiful prologue that draws the reader in from the very first page the writing is top-class and cannot be faulted. I also loved the emotions that I felt towards the different and very well drawn characters. Krysta is easily one of the nastiest young girls I have ever met in literature and I was surprised by how much hatred her actions aroused in me. Karma is not so good to her unfortunately and by the end of the novel she redeems herself slightly with the struggles she goes through later. The fairy-tales that Greet told to her young charge were wonderful and really brought a new level to the story, they were almost my favourite part to be honest and I almost felt like Krysta, rubbing her hands in glee as a new story was about to be told. And the ending! I can’t talk about it for fear of spoilers but believe me the two strands are brought together in such an insightful and thrilling way. Overall, it was very hard for me to put this book down, it was a fantastic introduction for me to this author’s work and an emotional and exciting journey. Basically, I’m really excited to see what she does next!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Short Stories Challenge – A Day In The Life Of Half Of Rumpelstiltskin by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Published October 14, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

This is the story of a fairy tale character, Rumpelstiltskin with a bit of a difference – there is only half of him.

What did I think?:

I was quite excited when I read the title of the fourth story in Kevin Brockmeier’s collection. I’m a bit of a fan of fairy tale re-imaginings and was curious to discover what spin the author had put on this one. In the original fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin has a bit of a talent for spinning straw into gold. His gift comes in handy when a miller’s daughter is locked in a cell and ordered to spin straw into gold for the King of this particular land. The girl begs Rumpelstiltskin to help her and she hands over material goods like a necklace, ring etc each day until she has nothing else to give. The King then tells her that he will marry her if she will spin some more straw into gold and she pleads for the imp’s help one more time. He agrees if she will give him her first-born child. Of course, when she becomes Queen she does not want to give up her baby when Rumpelstiltskin comes to collect it and he says that he will not take the child if the Queen can guess his name within three days. The Queen does manage to guess his name after some sneaky spying and an enraged Rumpelstiltskin “in his rage drove his right foot so far into the ground that it sank in up to his waist; then in a passion he seized the left foot with both hands and tore himself in two.”

In this short story, we see a day in the life of “half” of Rumpelstiltskin due to the fact that he has torn himself in two. He seems to have some order to his life that also feels monotonous and quite sad. He is described as looking like “a banana with feet at both ends,” and gets around either by hopping or arching his body moving palm to toe. While he washes, we are treated to the full grisly detail of him squeezing the water from various organs and ligaments which are exposed (by the way did you realise that he is the only man he knows where the forearm is a hard-to-reach place?) then heads off to work for three hours as a replacement for damaged mannequins in a shop window. The sky, as in the other stories in this collection so far, plays a big part as Rumpelstiltskin gazes and ponders on it. The most fascinating part of the story for me was the letter from “the other half” of the imp where certain words are missed out but the reader can guess at what word should be in the empty space. It was such an ingenious device of the author and so well thought out that I couldn’t help but be impressed but I think you have to read it yourself to get an idea of what I’m talking about!

In the afternoon, Rumpelstiltskin gives a speech to a woman’s organisation on The Birthrights of First-Born Children “a topic in which he claims no small degree of expertise.” I absolutely loved this section of the story. Not only does the author make fun of the original fairy-tale, poor Rumpelstiltskin has to defend himself against a barrage of women getting their fairy-tales slightly muddled. No, he’s not The Big Bad Wolf. The author mixes his humour with quite a bit of sadness and by the end of the story, which was so poignant, I felt quite sorry for poor Rumpelstiltskin as he muses on life as half a person and wonders what his other half is doing. Again from Kevin Brockmeier, we have an absolutely fantastic piece of writing that is imaginative, touching and leaves you thinking about it long after the story ends. In short, I loved it!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Looking Up Vagina by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Short Stories Challenge – Diving Belles – Lucy Wood, From the collection Diving Belles

Published June 24, 2013 by bibliobeth

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Diving Belles – What’s it all about?:

Diving Belles is Lucy Wood’s first work, and a collection of short stories that all have a sense of the “magical” about them which is why it appealed so strongly to me. The title story involves a lonely old woman whose husband has been spirited away by the sea, and she must pay a fee to be taken down to the sea bed in a diving bell in order to search for and entice him back onto the land again.

What did I think?:

This is the third story in my Short Stories Challenge, please see my previous post HERE. I have completely fallen in love with Lucy Wood’s style of storytelling. She had me aptly squirming like a fish on a hook – intrigued to know more, and desperate for the story not to end. The reader isn’t quite sure what to expect at the beginning… an old lady goes down to see a shipwreck, but she appears to be searching for something… and it turns out to be her husband, who seems to have been spirited away by the mer-people. However, this is never stated explicitly by the author, and, at the beginning, it just seems to be your average (sad) story about a bereaved widow. She still reaches for him in the night, she sees things that are perhaps not really there, and it is clear she loves and misses him terribly. So then we get the mystical, surreal and absolutely beautiful fairy-tale element to the story which was so evocatively written for me, I could almost taste the sea-salt. I’m not going to spoil the end of the story, and will leave you in suspense as to whether she finds her husband in the end, but I urge everyone to read this, purely if you enjoy suspending your disbelief and have a soft spot for the other-wordly. If the rest of the stories in the collection are like this one, I am in for a treat!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORYThe Blue Summit – Randy Taguchi, from the collection Fujisan