Posts Tagged ‘Fairy Tales’

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

November 21, 2014

Teenager Jeremy Johnson Johnson (yes, his middle and last names are both Johnson) lives in the offbeat town of Never Better, which can only be located by those searching for it (but if you find it once, you’ll never lose your way when you try to return). He and his father run the Two Book Bookstore, which stocks just two books. And Jeremy’s best friend is the ghost of Jacob Grimm. This quirky setting is the backdrop for one of the most unique books I’ve read in a while – part ghost story, part dark fairy tale. Like many fairy tales, the good characters are truly good, the villains are shockingly evil, and the magic is unexplained but ever present.

Jacob doesn’t know why he has a duty to look after Jeremy, but he knows he does. He knows that he must find and protect Jeremy from a mysterious figure known only as the Finder of Occasions. Jeremy is the only one who can hear Jacob, and Jacob has become his constant companion as he struggles to cope with his mother having left the family and his father sinking into depression as a result. Jeremy is focused on his schoolwork, his one man lawn business, and planning for a better future – until the day he and the daring, beautiful Ginger Boultinghouse meet and she takes an interest in him. Much to his surprise, he and Ginger become fast friends. But soon, an innocent enough prank goes wrong and the town turns on Jeremy. Soon, Jeremy is at risk of losing the bookstore and his home. As Ginger tries to help Jeremy figure out a way out of his dilemma, they start to uncover dark secrets about Never Better: the town has had a mysterious string of disappearances of children and teens, and they may be in danger of something far worse than being shunned by the townspeople.

Jacob continues to fret about the danger Jeremy is in from the Finder of Occasions as more and more ominous signs appear – but the truth about the missing children is darker than anyone in Never Better suspects. As things start getting more twisted, the story gets more and more gripping. McNeal writes the kind of fairy tale that grabs you and won’t let your imagination go – and the kind of story that makes you want to leave the light on if you read it late at night!

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Jinx by Sage Blackwood

March 18, 2014

Young Jinx knows that the thick forest called the Urwald is full of danger. Anyone foolish enough to leave the path is likely to meet a hungry werewolf or elves or, even worse, an evil wizard. So when Jinx’s stepfather decides that he has too many mouths to feed and leads Jinx off the path, he knows things aren’t going to end well. Sure enough, they meet both a wizard and a troll. But much to Jinx’s surprise, he leaves the encounter alive – and with a new home, with the mysterious wizard Simon Magus.

As time passes, Jinx begins to question what he’s heard about wizards. Simon is short tempered, but he doesn’t seem evil. As Jinx grows up in Simon’s home, he gradually learns a lot more about his world: magic is more complicated than he had thought, there is much more outside the Urwald than he would have guessed, and he himself is more unique than he knows at the book’s start. Jinx is a classic fairy tale character: the orphan with more power than anyone expects. He’s also smart, brave and immensely likeable. Simon is also a fascinating character, far more nuanced than he seems at first.

His motives keep the reader guessing as he tries to balance his grudging affection for Jinx with his ambitions as a powerful wizard.

Jinx is written for a middle grade audience, but would appeal to anyone, adult or child, who enjoys a mix of powerful magic, peculiar wizards and witches, unique fantasy worlds and well-written characters at the center of it all. Even better, Jinx’s world is much bigger and more complex at the end of the book than at the start, and Blackwood‘s sequel, Jinx’s Magic, introduces still more to the story. This is shaping up to be one of my favorite fantasy series in years, and I can’t wait for the third book!

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Emil’s Picks

December 30, 2013

Here are some older books that made an impression on me in 2013. And I am, partly, what I read.

On Heaven and Earth by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka
When On Heaven and Earth was published in 2010, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a cardinal in Buenos Aires. In 2013, he became pope to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and On Heaven and Earth offered a marvelous opportunity to get to know the new Bishop of Rome. The book is a series of conversations between Bergoglio and his friend, Buenos Aires rabbi Abraham Skorka. In the book, the two Argentinians share their wisdom, and their dialogue often reveals applied faith. “Our true power,” Bergoglio says, “must be service. We cannot adore God if our spirit does not include the needy.” And his friend the rabbi agrees.

Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Evgeny Bunimovich and James Kates
Some time ago, researchers asked about three hundred Moscow teenagers to name twenty famous people who had influenced the formation of their identity. Over thirty percent of the students named Aleksandr Pushkin, the most celebrated of Russian poets, as their first choice. But while the poetry of the Russian Golden Age continues to attract readers, it has been harder for contemporary Russian poets to reach an audience. Which is a pity, because for the first time in Russian history, Russian poetry is now free from censorship and stylistic restrictions, and these poets have a lot to tell those who will take the time to listen. Here is post-Soviet irony and the mesmerizing voices of poets like Marianna Geide, Anna Russ, and Maria Stepanova – young women just beginning to make themselves heard. And this anthology also reveals the revival of faith the country is going through, as in these words of Olesya Nikolaeva: “A fledgling winter flickers through me/ and the holidays of my Lord – Christmas, home,/ transformed into a manger. From there the word comes:/ you have everything that you yourself are/ you have that which you are!”

Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Isserley motors about Scotland, looking for men. However, it can’t just be anyone – ideally, they need to be single and muscular to fit Isserley’s purposes. Her worldview in clearly unusual and Isserley – with an enormous chest, short legs, and thick glasses – is not what she seems. Neither are her co-workers at Ablach Farm. The men Isserley gives a ride are soon in the midst of horrors that outdo their worst nightmares – horrors that are not far removed from what is going on in the world today.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published the first edition of their compilation of folk and fairy tales. In 2012, Penguin Classics asked Philip Pullman to curate 50 of Grimm’s classic tales, and he “leapt at the chance.” But how do you get at something that has already been done so perfectly? Pullman stays true to the spirit of the tales and finds strength in their immense storytelling power. Thus, he helps introduce this treasure to a contemporary audience that may be more familiar with Pullman than with these tales and their deep, deep Germanic roots.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
After spending four years in “the bad place,” a neural health facility in Baltimore, Patrick Peoples is back at home with his parents, living in their basement, and trying to get his life back on track. Pat believes that he has spent but a few months in the psychiatric ward, and his world view is dominated by magical and delusional thinking. He feels that he and his wife, Nikki, have been forced into “apart time” because he was a mean husband who got fat and made the wrong decisions. He has returned to New Jersey to make things right, become fit, and be “kind instead of right.” However, the people who surround him seem convinced that Nikki is gone for good, and instead some of them try to get him to spend time with Tiffany – a very strange girl, indeed. She’s obviously crazy; but then again, who isn’t?

Best New Books of 2013: Marci B’s Picks

December 13, 2013

Hi, I’m Marci Byers.  I read all types of genre fiction, but I am partial to Young Adult books.  I enjoy YA books because I like watching the characters journey into their adult selves.  Here are some of the gems I uncovered this year.

Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
This book is the conclusion of an outstanding trilogy. See here for my review of The Girl of Fire and Thorns.  Over the course of three books we’ve watch Princess Elisa grow up and mature into a strong leader.  Gone is the shy, sheltered girl, who was afraid of her shadow.  Elisa is trying to find happiness in her current situation; can she succeed without risking her country’s security?

Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
Madness Underneath continues the story of  Rory Devereux in The Name of the Star. Rory just wants to be a normal teenager.  As an American living in England, she already stands out.  Also there is the pesky matter of her ability to see ghosts.  Her first year at boarding school was marked by a serial killer stalking her.   This year Rory just wants to get her life back to normal.  She wants to go back to boarding school and her friends.  However, her parents are being a bit overprotective of her this year.  Can Rory get her life back on track or will the past continue to haunt her?

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy
How far would you go for someone you love?  Criminal is just that story.  Nikki, is a street smart young woman, except for her flaw, her boyfriend Dee.  Her friends tell her Dee is trouble and she should dump him.  She cannot because she loves him and sees good in him.   Then Dee asks her to lie to the police and alibi him.  By the time Nikki discovers the reason she lied it’s too late to save herself and she must now face the consequences of that lie, which is prison time.  Can Nikki find redemption for her part in Dee’s crime?

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Set in a future Earth, but based on the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood, Scarlet is the 2nd book in The Lunar Chronicles (after Cinder). The people who populate Meyer’s books are anything but typical fairytale characters.  When Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother goes missing, she does not hesitate to go where she thinks she might find out information on her missing grandmother.  When she meets a street fighter named Wolf, both of their lives will be changed forever.  Cinder’s story is also continued in this book.

Orleans by Sherri Smith
For the city of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina was just the beginning.  Subsequent hurricanes and Delta Fever have left the residents quarantined and left  to fend for themselves. The Delta Fever means the population segregates itself by bloodtype in order to survive.  After an ambush by another blood type, Fen is entrusted with the safety of her chieftain’s newborn baby girl.  Her plan is to get the child out to the Outer States before she is infected with Delta Fever.  Will she be successful?

Best New Books of 2013: Cheryl T’s Picks

December 4, 2013

Although I read all sorts of books, from adult historical and literary fiction to narrative nonfiction and books on nutrition, I am the children’s and teens’ selector, so I keep up with those books, too! This short list contains titles from some of the best YA writers out there, including atmospheric mysteries, mind-bending science fiction, surprising fantasy, and contemporary coming-of-age novels. These are some of my favorite new titles of 2013. Enjoy!

All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry
When eighteen-year-old Judith returns to her Puritan village two years after she disappeared, even her mother considers her a ruined young woman. After hearing Judith struggle unsuccessfully to tell her tale with the half a tongue that her captor left to her, her mother is so repulsed that she forbids her to ever speak again. Judith knows that the boy she has loved since they were both children is lost to her forever, even though she can never tell him why. Her captor was his father. Thus begins a terrifying and desperate story of guilt and innocence, love and hatred, and above all, sad misunderstandings. See my full post here.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Josie Moraine is the daughter of a brothel prostitute in 1950s New Orleans. She’s smart, pretty, resourceful, and yearning to escape her seedy life in the Old Quarter. Her mother has taken up with a dangerous man who repeatedly threatens Josie’s life. Josie longs to join society-girl Charlotte at Smith College, but it seems like just a dream. Life gets even more complicated when she finds a deceased wealthy man’s watch under her mother’s bed, which entangles Josie in a murder investigation. The anguish in the novel is excruciating at times, as Josie lands in one terrifying situation after another, and the author does not sweeten them up for a minute. A richly portrayed novel of ambition, betrayal, and honor.

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Seth drowns in the very preface of the novel, but he does not move toward a gentle light, nor is this book one big flashback. The reader works to discover the truth along with Seth in this sci-fi thriller, and events unfold ever more quickly, running toward a breathless conclusion. Along the way, Seth grapples with the nature of reality, wondering if his present circumstances justify the feeling he has always had, that there must be more than this. If this is the “more,” is it what he expected? Or perhaps the “more” was always in front of him before, but he didn’t see it.

Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal
Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives with his dad in the town of Never Better, but things could be much better for them. His grandfather bequeathed Jeremy the bookstore where they live, but his father took out a huge loan on the store, and of course, he can’t pay it back. Along comes the fetching Ginger Boltinghouse, who convinces Jeremy to participate in a harmless prank that goes terribly wrong. The ghost of Jacob Grimm, one of the famous brothers who wrote those dark fairy tales, is trying to protect Jeremy from the Finder of Occasions, a person who will use any event to visit evil upon his unsuspecting victims. The shocking twist proves that this is a Grimm tale, after all.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Bonded together more than ever after their mother leaves, twins Cather and Wren spend their time taking care of their sweet but unstable father and writing fanfiction about the incredibly popular Simon Snow series. When they go to college, Cather imagines that life will continue as usual, fitting in her schoolwork around her fanfiction writing, but Wren becomes a party girl overnight. Cather is dealing with a hostile roommate with a nosy boyfriend, a writing partner who steals her material, and a professor who informs Cather that fanfiction is not original writing. While Cath dithers about raising her failing grade in her most important class and Wren continues to implode, Cath’s romantic life becomes very complicated and their father chooses that moment to have a breakdown. A complex and delightful coming-of-age novel in which every character needs to come of age: the main characters, the roommates, the boyfriends, and even the parents.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

October 28, 2013

Inventive—Check! Fun—Check! Whimsical—Check! Hilarious—Check!

What may I be speaking of? Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Yes, that is the whole title. We’re just going to call it Circumnavigated for the time being.

Reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, our main protagonist September is whisked away to fairyland by the Green Wind from her boring home in Nebraska. Early in her journey, September is tasked by several witches to get a spoon back from the evil Marquess. This sets in motion a series of events in which September, unknowingly, is pitted against Fairyland’s newest ruler.

The world of Fairyland is rich with vibrant characters. She meets a part-library/part-wyvern (a wyverary) named A-Through-L, a marid named Saturday, and a wrangler in the great Velocipede migration. The brilliantly clever September faces danger around every curve. She forms deep bonds with the friends she makes in Fairyland and, when her time is up, she isn’t sure she wants to ever leave the adventure-filled Fairyland for her home in the Midwest.

The writing is poetic and magical. I felt it was sweet while being fantastical and, even better, providing a strong female protagonist. If you enjoyed books like Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, do yourself a favor and pick this book up immediately.

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Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

October 7, 2013

British author Philip Pullman attracted plenty of attention when he said that children should know stories from the Bible. Stop! Wait! Isn’t Pullman famous for being an atheist? Yes, he is. But it is possible to appreciate the Bible even if it’s not understood as “the inspired word of God.” The Bible is part of a widespread cultural heritage and in terms of narrative it is supreme.
The same can be said about the fairy tales collected, transcribed, edited, and re-edited by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Like the Bible, these tales belong to the cultural heritage of the world, and they are also similar to the Good Book in another way. There are no original Bible manuscripts – they have all been eaten by Time – and likewise no one alive today knows what the original oral fairy tales contained, and how they differ from the tales that were published by the Grimms in 1812. “The fairy tale,” Philip Pullman says, “is in a perpetual state of becoming,” and in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Pullman becomes part of this process and tradition.
In 2012, Penguin Classics asked Pullman to curate 50 of Grimm’s classic fairy tales, and he “leapt at the chance.” “I thought there was no point being fussy about the original text,” he said in an interview when the book was published, and he was thorough when deciding on what to include in his book. “They are not all of the same quality,” he said. ”Some are easily much better than others. And some are obvious classics.”
What mainly matters to Pullman is clarity in storytelling and the sense that these tales still transmit deep truths. The author’s retelling of the fairy tales from the brothers Grimm is admirable and his “version” – that enlivens these classics – serves a commendable purpose – it brings the fairy tales back to the attention of modern readers.

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Among Others by Jo Walton

August 1, 2013

Like many men, I usually need a fair amount of action in a story to get me hooked and to really enjoy it. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate character development and ideas, I do. But, that’s why I’ve had a hard time trying to describe this Hugo & Nebula Award winning novel and explain what I really liked about it. The story is that of Morwenna (Mori) Phelps, a 15-year-old girl who ran away from her more-than-half-mad mother in Wales and is now attending boarding school in England thanks to her estranged father’s family. There’s also magic, faeries, libraries, and books – oh so many wonderful science fiction & fantasy books!

The novel unfolds in diary form from Mori’s perspective and is compellingly readable as we slowly learn more about Mori’s past, what happened to her mother and sister, and why she’s now on her own at a boarding school in a foreign country. Jo Walton puts a unique spin on the idea of a magical boarding school in that the school Mori attends is very ordinary, but Mori herself knows just a bit of magic. She is able to dabble enough to bring herself to the attention of the faeries from her dark and mysterious past. Meanwhile, she also slowly gets to know her father, discovers a shared love of reading sci-fi & fantasy, and even joins an SF book club at the local public library in town. In telling this wonderful story, Walton has also managed to convey her love for golden age 20th century speculative fiction and the authors of the genre.

If you liked other books that are essentially love letters to books and geek culture (see Ready Player One, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, and Redshirts), you’ll want to add Among Others to your “”to read”” list. And if you enjoy reading sci-fi and fantasy books, then you’ll want to be sure to have pen & paper handy to jot down the dozens of titles and authors that Mori, her father, and her Sci-Fi book club share with each other – and with us, the lucky readers.

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Peter and Max: a Fables Novel by Bill Willingham

March 11, 2013

Do you enjoy fairy tales? How about when classic tales are given a new twist? Are you a fan of the ABC TV show Once Upon a Time? If you said yes, then you’ll want to check out Peter & Max. This novel is based on Bill Willingham’s award-winning Fables series of graphic novels (featured on our blog twice before). But, you don’t have to have read any of the graphic novels to enjoy the story of Peter & Max. Much like in Once Upon a Time there are fairy tale characters now living in our mundane world. They have fled to our world as the invading goblin army of the Adversary has slowly swallowed up their homelands, and they now live in hiding in New York City and on a farm upstate. Also like the TV show Once, the story of Peter & Max alternates between the current day in our world and what happened long ago in their homelands.

The story begins in modern times on a farm, where Peter Piper and his wife Bo live on an isolated parcel.  Rose Red comes to see them and deliver some bad news to Peter. It seems that his brother Max is in our world. Why is this bad news? Well, those old sibling rivalries can turn very ugly when allowed to fester for a few centuries, especially when one brother travels the path of dark magic and destruction. Peter soon sets out to confront his brother and knows that one way or another it will be their final encounter and that one of them will die.

Long, long ago, back in his home world, Peter and his family of traveling musicians went to the annual fair and stopped to visit their friends the Peeps. During their stay with the Peeps, Peter’s father bestows a magical flute called Frost on him. Max is instantly jealous because he is the oldest son and accuses Peter of stealing it. Meanwhile, the Adversary’s army has just invaded and conquered, causing the Pipers and Peeps to flee into the Black Forest. While in the woods the group is savagely attacked and they must split up in hopes of making it to safety. While Peter escapes to Hamelin Town, Max spends years in the vast forest, slowly growing more evil-minded until he is found by a powerful witch who gives Max his own magic flute, which responds to his powers of dark magic.

The alternating chapters move the separate stories forward filling us in on what else happened to Peter, Max, and Bo that led them to where they are today. The conclusion is a powerful showdown that fully lived up to my expectations and even surprised me! This is a very fast-paced book with plenty of action to keep the reader turning pages. The novel is also illustrated throughout by the talented Steve Leialoha (who worked on the Fables comics). I highly recommend Peter & Max – an original prose novel by a guy who’s won awards for writing comic books.

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Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

February 13, 2013

“I read a book about fairies.
There, I said it…or wrote it.
That is my public proclamation.
If you are like me, the thought of such a proclamation is frightening.        

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce takes place in modern times upon the Christmas Day return of Tara Martin who went missing over 20 years in the hauntingly beautiful Outwoods not long after an argument with her paramour and family friend Ritchie. Where has she been all this time? Why does she look so young?

She confides in her brother with a wild tale which angers him and then their parents. She also reconnects with Ritchie who still pines for her despite his downhill life. Her family explores all the possibilities and she consents to their demands in an effort to prove her tale true. The best anyone can do is to believe that she believes her own unlikely story.

For a book about fairies, Graham Joyce does a great job not making it too fantastical. Each chapter begins with a quote about fairies or fairy tales to remind the skeptic, I mean, reader, of their importance in literature, history and culture. Much of the plot and subplots remain well-grounded in the here and now. But what Joyce really succeeds at is artfully weaving together all the plots and characters to create a sense of suspense and leaving the reader second guessing. He really reminds me of Ian McEwan and Tana French in that respect. So if you typically enjoy literary fiction but need to step out of that realm, give Some Kind of Fairy Tale a try, you won’t regret it. In fact, you may even publically proclaim that you read a book about fairies.

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