Tag Archives: folklore-and-faerie-tales

Bonus Review! Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger


Raven GirlAnother short story that doesn’t count toward my CBR goal.

This wasn’t a great read for me.

A human and a raven fall in love and have a daughter who is neither human nor raven. She knows something is wrong and doesn’t fit into either world. Science tries to make her whole but will she become what she was born to be?

This is a super quick read, complete with Niffengger’s illustrations. I’m not sure why I didn’t like it. I think part of it was the Detective Boy who follows the Raven Girl on her secret travels. Although his character and the scientist do play against each other, making you wonder if either is the bad guy.

Not a favorite, but in no way a waste of ink and paper.

#17: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

TalismanThis was a book club pick and many of my Facebook friends were shocked that I had never read it before.  A huge group of friends love this book and many have it in their Favorite Books of All Time lists.  I expected that my like-minded reader friends would of course be on board, but I found that friends that I wouldn’t have guessed like this genre loved it as well.  Clearly this is a book that spans readerships and ages.  Several friends read it and loved it as teenagers and then picked it up again as adults and were thrilled that it held up and they still loved it.  All of these FB responses made me wonder why this book was never on my radar.  I’m really glad my book group picked it.

The challenge for me was figuring out how to describe the authors’ writing.  Was it King’s part?  Straub’s?  King-Straub?  Straub-King?  There were definitely parts that were 100% King, but I’ve never read anything by Straub so couldn’t know what he created.  For the purpose of this review I’ll stay with the book’s order and the author is now King-Straub.

Our protagonist is Jack Sawyer.  It’s 1981 and he’s on the cusp of turning 13.  His father is dead, his mother is dying and she has scooped him up and fled to New Hampshire, and he doesn’t know why.  She won’t admit she’s dying, or even that she’s sick, and Jack is angry and scared at everything she’s keeping from him.

His father’s business partner is relentlessly pursuing them both and this ads to Jack’s confusion.  Uncle Morgan (not really his uncle) has been bullying his mother about something.  It has to do with Jack’s father and it is clear that his mother wants nothing to do with Morgan’s plans.  The more she resists, the angrier Morgan gets and Jack begins to wonder exactly what his father’s business was.

He also begins to remember when he was a little boy and would Daydream.  His mother was quick to tell him to forget them, although lately he’s begun to see things he knows aren’t real.  Humans don’t have eyes that turn to yellow and hands that turn to claws.  Seagulls don’t rip oysters apart while staring at you, making it clear that they’d rather the oyster was your heart.  The sand beneath your feet doesn’t spin and speak to you about your beloved and trusted Uncle Tommy’s sudden death.  Tommy, the only person would could have protected your mother from Morgan.

The Talisman follows traditional folklore motifs which almost always makes me happy.  Sometimes an author uses this structure and fails and it’s horrible, but in the gifted hands of King-Straub, it’s amazing.  Jack follows the Hero’s Journey, finding a guide and friends to lead him on his path.  Morgan and other enemies are constantly at his back, and Jack knows little about what his quest even is.  He knows he needs to save his mother and now he knows there is another world.

Turns out his Daydreams were real.  His elder guide is Speedy Parker who seems to know things that Jack has always suspected.  He expects greatness from Jack, who is frustrated and confused and scared that he’s supposed to know who he is and what he can do.

The Territories are waiting for him.

He needs to save both worlds.

He doesn’t understand any of it.

With Speedy’s help he slips back and forth between the two places, feeling helpless and young.  He still doesn’t understand who  he is, only that there is a Queen in the Territories who is and is not his mother and must also be saved.  She is dying and Morgan is waiting to take the Kingdom from her.  Only it’s not Morgan.  At least not the Morgan in Jack’s world.  Not Jack’s world… Jack’s other world.  The one with his mother and not the Queen.

Jack must travel between the two worlds from New Hampshire to California to find the Talisman and save his mother.

In the Territories he must avoid Morgan’s Twinner and the Twinners that serve Morgan in both worlds.  It now makes sense that humans do have eyes that turn to yellow and hands that turn to claws.  Jack has no Twinner.  The Queen’s son died, but Jack lived.

Jack’s story continues along the folklore motif and he must overcome challenges in order to get to the prize.

If the book follows the folklore rules, he will win, but how?  And what if he doesn’t?  Even knowing these rules, how will an almost thirteen year old boy with so little knowledge defeat a man who has wanted him dead since he was a baby?  A man with so much power that he’s is already taking the Territories over while the Queen sleeps?  A man with a son in this world who is Jack’s best friend and must learn who his father is.

I loved this book.  The characters are amazing.  From pure evil to pure innocent and everything in between, King-Straub have created a the kind of cast that you want to be real.  You want to be friends with Wolf.  You are comforted that Speedy is out there keeping an eye on things.  You’re willing to let Richard slip away from you in order to stay sane.

I understand why so many of my friends love this book and consider it an all time favorite.  When an author follows the folklore rules and creates something new and exciting, it’s incredibly satisfying.  As readers we know what will happen (or should happen) but not how the authors will get us there.  There is a fear that the hero will fail and we agree with him when he’s ready to give up.  It’s easier to lose, no matter how important the prize at the end will be.  It is exhausting to watch him struggle and lose his way, especially knowing how much balances on his decisions.  If he fails in one world, he will lose everything in the other.

And I was lucky to get to go with him.

Bonus Review! Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge, Illustrated by Andrea Dezso

lies knives girls in red dressesThis one is too short to count toward my CBR goal but I didn’t want to leave it off my review list because I really enjoyed it.

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses is (are you ready?)  a collection of retold and re-imagined fairy tales.

I love this genre.  I don’t know if it’s possible to have a favorite of any type of book when you love books so much, but fairy tales and folklore are way up on the list, and when they turn into retold tales and urban fantasy, my knees get weak.

There are twenty two stories here, including Rapunzel, the Twelve Dancing Princesses, Hansel and Gretel, the Ugly Duckling, Rumpelstiltskin, Red Riding Hood, and the Princess with that damned pea.

The tales are told as short poems without much introduction.  We know who Cinderella is, so when we hear the aftermath from the stepsisters’ point of view, we don’t need to hear all that crap about the ball again.

To make these stories all the more sweet is the amazing mix between Once Upon and Time and Modern Time.

Cinderella’s stepsisters have surgery instead of their mother hacking off their toes.

Rapunzel’s mother talks about her three times a week therapy appointments.  The prince meets other princes in rehab while he waits for his eyes to heal.

The Little Match Girl is selling her CDs on the corner.  The cops find her dead, but what are you going to do?

A soldier makes a pact with the devil where he’ll wear the bearskin for seven years so his PTSD will stop.

The Beast is a bit bored now.  The weather is perfect, he’s a man again, but sometimes he really misses those fangs.

Hansel and Gretel?  Oh, they are pissed.  So very pissed.

Death makes his godson an amazing football player, poised to win the Heisman.  Things don’t go so well.

If you spit jewels when you speak and your sister spews toads, how on earth to you expect to keep a husband?

When you’re the only one speaking the truth about the Emperor’s New Clothes, how long can you hold out?

The miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin?  Life is so boring after you’ve won a dangerous game.  Surely there’s got to be something much more dangerous out there in the woods.

Little Red Riding Hood is trying to tell the story to her mom, but god, stop interrupting me!  The whole thing was, like, gross?  But whatever.  I let him.  And then some dude shows up with scissors and it’s wicked gay, but whatever, I’m hungry and you need to get off my back, OK?

I love it.

The illustrations are amazing.  Koertge wrote some beautiful lines, but without Dezso’s art, this book wouldn’t have been as good.  The art is all black on white in  woodcut style.  The lines are sharp and deep.  Shadows and movement surround the cuts and you can almost see the red of the blood as it drips down someone’s chin.

Even better?  Dezso is an art professor at Amherst College, so I bet I could go see her work in person somewhere.  http://andreadezso.com/

Hole.  Lee.  Shit.  She did embroidery of things her mother said to her as a child.  Transylvanian moms are AMAZING!

I need to stop looking at her page or I’m going to stay up for another hour and I should really go to bed.

In conclusion:

If you like folklore, fairy tales and slightly fucked up shit, get this book.  It’s much tamer than the monkey sex in Robert Coover’s Briar Rose but not purified like Disney.


#4: Briar Rose by Robert Coover

Briar RoseI love me a good old fashioned fucked up fairy tale.  Like most of us, I grew up on Disney.  I don’t know when the magic moment came, but the original stories were brought to me and OMFG you guys, it was awesome. I began to devour collections of tales from around the world, and the more violent and fucked up they were the happier I became.  How awesome is it when a fake princess gets red-hot iron shoes nailed to her feet and everyone watches until she dances herself to death?  And when The Little Mermaid returns to the water and becomes sea foam because she can’t bring herself to stab her love in the heart and smear the blood over her legs to get her tail back?  Fantastic. And Briar Rose… Sweet, sweet Briar Rose.  Imagine waking up because you’ve given birth and your baby has crawled up your lifeless body to grab on to your breast and feed.  What in the fucking fuck, right?  Prince Charming McCharmy banged you in your death sleep, knocked you up and took off.

Original tales, retellings, erotica, metaphor, modern day, tales for kids, the familiar motifs… bring them all to me.

And then I opened Robert Coover’s Briar Rose.

Do Not Want

Remember up there when I said I liked the twisted tales?  I was not prepared for this delightful nightmare. The tale is told in three voices: Briar Rose, The Prince, and the fairy who trapped them both.

The Prince follows his story close to the letter.  He hears there’s a princess, no other man has made it in to save her, he might be the chosen one, here come the thorns, let’s move in.  Will he make it?  What will happen?

The fairy is an interesting and fantastic take.  When you put a spell on a princess, you better be prepared to hang out for a hundred years waiting to see if it will ever be broken.

And then there’s Briar Rose.  When you sleep, you dream.  When you dream, shit gets weird.  How much of your dream is real?  How much is formed by snatches of conversation?  How does the sound of a room make its way into your mind?  How does it feel knowing you’re about to wake up, but then no… you slip back into  your death sleep.

And what happens when the world knows there’s a sleeping princess in a room in a castle surrounded by thorns?  What happens if a prince makes it in, looks at the girl and then thinks maybe he doesn’t want a wife and he doesn’t want to be the hero, but as long as he’s here…?  Briar Rose has dream after dream of her prince arriving to wake her with a kiss only to pinch her, to rape her sleeping form, to tie her up for gang rape, to have animals crawl over her body while her parents watch… How much is dream and how much is reality?  How frustrated must a man be to crawl through the thorns only to discover that his kiss isn’t the one to break the spell?  What if the seven dwarves appear only to realize that this sleeping beauty isn’t their Snow White?  A young body, delicate lips… waiting… waiting… waiting.  No one can see, no one can hear…

Meanwhile the fairy waits for Briar Rose’s dream self to appear seeking comfort. She tells her tale after tale, waiting for the moment when the girl realizes that the tales are all true.  But she’s a stupid girl, waiting for her prince, her kiss, and her love.  All those terrible things must not be true because that’s not how tales go.  That’s not how her tale goes.

So the fairy watches over her.  Cleans up a hundred years of menses.  Wipes her bottom.  Keeps her hair brushed.  Prepares her body for the readiness of her prince.  They are forever twined together, these two.  No matter how much the crone fairy scares her, she remains the one constant in Briar Rose’s life and she will continue to return to her for tales, but never for understanding.

So Briar Rose waits.  Yet another prince climbs through the window.  Or is this the first prince?  Her prince?

Her eyes flicker beneath her lids, but still, she sleeps…

Coover’s writing is beautiful.  His words are absolutely gorgeous as they reveal the rape and bestiality and incest and hope.  The rhythm of Briar Rose’s sections are dreamlike and disjointed.  As her body is violated again and again, she drifts away into her dreamy haze.  I stopped several times to reread an especially breathtaking passage.  He crafts a tale of horror using lovely language and I could not stop reading.

I’ve read a lot of retellings, and this is hands down the most fucked up one of all.  And Coover’s gift of words makes it amazing.  Another author could have gone for a debasing tale or a twisted erotica or pure kink, but Coover does so much more.

I have no clue who I’d recommend this to.  If you love fairy tales, then go for it, but prepare yourself to love something completely abhorrent.

#28: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Oh how I loved this book.  A friend often refers to her checklist of things she likes in books and when she reviews them she talks about what boxes were checked off.

This books checks off so many boxes for me.

  • Reminders of my schoolgirl horse phase
  • Strong female teen character that doesn’t go to pieces because she starts to like a boy AND doesn’t give up when thing get hard OR wait for someone to solve her problems
  • Strong male teen character that quietly and thoughtfully takes in the world around him without giving in to what he “should be doing”
  • Kids forced to take care of each other after parents die (Is that a weird thing to “like”?)
  • Folklore magic
  • Cape Cod-like island life with crazy stormy weather
  • Realistic jerks for bad guys.

In a world of sweeping generalizations, boys go through their firefighter stage and girls go through their horse stage.  Somewhere around the third or fourth grade, I destroyed everything written by Marguerite Henry.  When I found out Chincoteague and Assateague Island were real places and there were actual ponies that you could go and see, my elementary school mind bent.  Pair this with my love of Cape Cod and the ocean and thunderstorms and it was nearly too much for my body to handle.  Ponies?  Sand dunes?  The ocean?  Are you kidding me?  Was this world built for me and me alone?

Flash forward to me at 36 years old picking up The Scorpio Races.  Not only do we have a wild horse race, we have freaking folklore horses.  The men of the island will venture into the sea to capture a deadly capaill uisce and see if they are strong enough to control it.  You can’t tame a capaill uisce but you can hope your horse sense, knowledge of faerie magic and strength is enough to build trust and prevent you from being torn apart and left to bleed to death in the sand.

Every November the capaill uisce are raced.  Sean Kendrick races for the love of his capaill uisce mount, the horse he hopes to some day own.  The same horse that killed Sean’s father in the race when Sean was a boy.  Puck Connolly is racing to try to keep her family together.  Her parents were killed by a capaill uisce years ago, and since then she and her brothers have barely held on to what little they own.  She doesn’t care about magic or tradition, but doesn’t mean to insult the history of the race.  She doesn’t have much time, and winning the race is her only option.  Sean, on the other hand, is expected to win.  Even though he’s an outsider on his own island, everyone knows he’s a master when it comes to the capaill uisce.  His only dream is to own Corr, the beautiful mount who trusts him.  When a stranger comes to the island to watch the races and learn more about the horses, both non-magic mounts and capaill uisce, Sean begins to wonder if he should be asking for more from the island.  Puck, simply by being who she is, continues to challenge him as a rider and a young man.  Everything is changing for both of them and the race is going to decide the next phase of their lives.

My two favorite parts of this book are the folklore of the capaill uisce and Puck.  Folklore is almost always going to be a win for me in any book.  And Puck?  She is a perfect mix of confidence and terror as she deals with things she shouldn’t even have to think about.  She both relies on and is infuriated by her brothers.  She misses her parents, especially her mom, while at the same time using what she learned from them to keep it together.  She doesn’t change when she meets Sean and refuses to be the kind of girl who would back down to impress someone.  She quickly realizes she’s going to have to fight to race since she’s the first female to attempt it, and although she is sometimes reduced to angry tears, she’s not the kind to give up because someone tells her she has to.

The supporting cast was just as wonderful as the two main characters.  The balance between Puck and her brothers was great to read because you can see how the death of their parents affected them individually and how they all compliment each other, even when they’re fighting.  The two villains are disgusting and easy to hate, even if you understand why they want Puck and Sean to fail.  Actually… other than money, I’m not sure what Malvern the elder’s motivation is.  Still, it’s good to hate him, especially when he shows moments of almost being human.

The suspense of the ending was perfect.  Both of them had to win in order to get what they want and need.  I kept wondering how Stiefvater was going to pull it off without making me hate her.  Would Puck win?  Would Sean?  Would they both cross the finish line at the same time?  (I would have hated her for that one.)  Would one throw the race for the other?  Would they both lose?  HOW WERE THINGS GOING TO BE RESOLVED???

I’m happy to report that the ending was wonderfully done.  It was heartbreaking and beautiful and I sniffled through the last few pages.  I was honestly happy for these characters.  It’s definitely a group that’s going to continue to live in my head and I wish they were real so I could check in with them every few years to see how they’re doing.