Time to talk about a few of the books I’ve read recently! One is an anthology, one is an ARC, one was a book club read, and one is a sequel. We’ve got some ratings all across the board here. Let’s get into all of my thoughts!
The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe
This anthology of fairy tale retellings reimagines familiar stories in new ways, often removing an aspect that seems essential (i.e. taking the wolf out of “Little Red Riding Hood”). My favorites were the ones that could be read without a familiarity with the original story…and surprisingly few fit this description.
- “In the Desert Like a Bone” by Seanan McGuire: 3.5 stars – a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” set in the wild west (cw: domestic abuse)
- “Underground” by Karin Tidbeck: 3 stars – a retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” in present day Sweden, I believe (cw: rape)
- “Even the Crumbs Were Delicious” by Daryl Gregory: 4 stars – a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” involving a couple of lost kids and a friendly stoner (cw: drug use, domestic abuse)
- “The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest” by Charlie Jane Anders: 4 stars – a very silly retelling of an already silly story, “The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage”
- “Familiaris” by Genevieve Valentine: 3.5 stars – a retelling of “The Wolves” that dealt with modern day motherhood
- “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar: 5 stars – a joint retelling of “The Glass Mountain” and “The Black Bull of Norroway.” To be honest, this story was the reason I picked up this entire collection – I loved it and loved it! (cw: abuse)
- “Badgirl, the Deadman, and The Wheel of Fortune” by Catherynne M. Valente: 3.5 stars – a retelling of “The Girl with No Hands” involving drug dealers (cw: nonconsensual drug use, child abuse)
- “Penny For a Match, Mister?” by Garth Nix: 4 stars – a retelling of “The Little Match Girl” set in the wild west again
- “Some Wait” by Stephen Graham Jones: 4.5 stars – a chilling retelling of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” involving computers coming to life (cw: suicide, child disappearance)
- “The Thousand Eyes” by Jeffrey Ford: 3 stars – a retelling of “The Voice of Death” set in New Jersey
- “Giants in the Sky” by Max Gladstone: 4.5 stars – a sci-fi retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” with a space elevator and post-human civilizations
- “The Briar and the Rose” by Marjorie Liu: 4.5 stars – a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” with a witch who steals and takes over women’s bodies (cw: rape)
- “The Other Thea” by Theodora Goss: 5 stars – a retelling of “The Shadow” that involved a school of witchcraft, talking cats, and portals to other worlds! Basically checking all of my boxes!! (cw: depression)
- “When I Lay Frozen” by Margo Lanagan: 2.5 stars – a retelling of “Thumbelina” with a flower creature who ran away from home
- “Pearl” by Aliette de Bodard: 2.5 stars – a space opera retelling of “Dā Tràng and the Pearl”
- “The Tale of Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle” by Sofia Samatar: 4.5 stars – a retelling of a recently discovered story by the same name involving shape-shifting animals and immortal women
- “Reflected” by Kat Howard: 3.5 stars – a retelling of “The Snow Queen” about grad students trying to discover a new scientific principle and accidentally discovering magic
- “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik: 4.5 stars – a retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin” about a girl who becomes a moneylender to save her family and satisfy a mythological monster. I enjoyed this but I probably won’t end up reading the full novel that Naomi Novik wrote from this story.
Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry
Content warnings: conversion therapy, homophobia, transphobia, torture, electroconvulsive therapy, self harm, suicide attempt
release date: October 8, 2019
Raya has grown up in her conservative Texas town hiding a part of herself, but when she’s discovered kissing another girl, she can’t hide anymore. She and said girl, her best friend Sarah, are sent to a conversion camp, where Raya hopes that she, like Orpheus, can lead the girl she loves to safety.
So…first of all, this is marketed as a retelling of the Orpheus myth from Greek mythology and it’s not. The “Orpheus” angle is used more for heavy-handed metaphors in an attempt to add depth to what is otherwise an unremarkable book.
There wasn’t much I enjoyed about reading this. The writing isn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t fantastic; the characters felt like flat paper dolls that the author moved around for the story’s convenience; the pacing was all kinds of weird. Worst of all, though, was the fact that this book deals with an incredibly painful and serious topic with little sensitivity. It blatantly shows the literal torture that the characters endure. While I think it’s important to face the reality of the horror behind conversion therapy, there are better ways to address it without harming the reader as well.
That said, I do want to mention that this topic is incredibly relevant, since conversion therapy is still legal in 33 US states. Just this past month, New York state repealed a ban on conversion therapy. If you want to learn more or help to end this practice, check out Born Perfect. Also, if you want a book about conversion therapy that, in my opinion, deal with it much better, read The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth.
*ARC PROVIDED BY NETGALLEY IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW.*
The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken
Content warnings: gore, mentions of rape
So I read this book because I’m helping run the romance book club at the bookstore where I work. This was the first book I read for that and…I didn’t love it.
This follows a blacksmith named Keeley who learns that her sister is prophesied to become the next queen of their realm. In an attempt to protect her family, she teams up with a group of centaurs and leaves their home behind.
There wasn’t much I enjoyed about this, so I won’t dwell on it too long. I didn’t like the sense of humor at all; it felt like everyone was trying way too hard to be quirky, which caused for some major tonal swings. All of the characters were so incompetent that I didn’t even want to root for them. There was some uncomfortable slut-shaming and body-shaming. And overall, the writing just…wasn’t that great. Though I did like that Keeley was a badass blacksmith who smashed everything with her hammer, Thor-style.
Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab (Cassidy Blake #2)
“Why is it that when kids believe in something, adults write it off as imagination, but when adults believe in something, people assume it’s true?”
Content warnings: mentions of child death
In this sequel to City of Ghosts, Cass, her ghostly best friend Jacob, and her parents travel to Paris to continue filming her parents’ TV show. There, Cass accidentally wakes up an unfriendly poltergeist in the catacombs and has to rely on both new and old friends, as well as her own ghost-hunting abilities, to save all of Paris.
It’s weird to say that a book about ghosts – a book in which one of the main characters is dead – feels cozy, but it does! Despite the creepy atmosphere (and we got plenty of that underground in the titular tunnel of bones), I spent much of this book smiling because Cass is a fun character to follow around and her friendship with Jacob is so heartwarming. Their banter is a joy to read. And Cass has the coolest parents!
This felt like the perfect follow-up to City of Ghosts; we get more spooky shenanigans, ghostly history lessons, and hints at the mystery of Jacob’s life (and death). I may not have gotten as invested in this city setting as I did in the first book – it’s hard to follow up on Edinburgh, my favorite city in the world – but Paris was definitely a cool place to read about. I can’t wait for the third book in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite middle grade series!
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? What books have you read recently?