#FolkloreThursday: Four Favourite Fables

Greetings, gremlins. We are back to our Folklore Thursday schedule with a list post! I mentioned in my interlude that I wanted to write a list but didn’t know which list to write. I’m not sure how I decided on fables but decide I did and now here we are with a post. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it? (I jest.)

In my modern fiction (‘modern’ here meaning written in recent years rather than being based in recent times), I tend to shy away from moralising. There are few books that moralise in a way that doesn’t make me want to slam my head into the nearest wall (Wonder by R.J. Palacio is probably the most successful that I have read, but I do shrink back from the idea of it ‘teaching society a lesson’). That isn’t to say that I think books can’t lead towards societal change, they can, I just object to books (and authors) who make that their book’s primary goal. It always seems forced and disingenuous, I much prefer it to happen organically. If that’s the message readers take from the book, great! If it’s shoved down the reader’s throat so that they have no choice but to swallow it, that’s not even in the same hemisphere as fantastic.

Heck, I’m probably against moralising in classics too aside from the fact that I don’t really read them. Folklore, mythology, fables? Come at me. Dickens? Go away, far away. Leave now, and never come back. (There are exceptions, Wuthering Heights and anything by Lewis Carroll being the main ones.)

One of my lingering memories of my early school life is learning about fables (often paired with parables, which would explain why, for quite a while, I thought fables were religious metaphors despite the fact that they, for the most part, originated in Ancient Greece – thanks, Primary School, for that misconception). The Tortoise and the Hare was the obvious feature, there were others but I don’t remember what they were. Alongside the learning about them, we were also asked to write our own. My crude, childish ramblings would have been, I’m positive, about rabbits – if we still have my school books at my parents’ house, I might seek them out and see what moral lessons little!Elou thought needed to be learnt and spread via the medium of probably-brown bunnies.

The fables listed below are not in their original phrasing, if you would like to see them in some of the older forms (there are so many different translations that I wouldn’t know where to start to find the most accurate translation out there), I recommend a trip to Project Gutenberg, which is one of my favourite resources on the internet.

1. The Fox and the Mask

100The Fox and the Mask is one of those little fables that stick with you. Or, it sticks with me anyway and not entirely for the best reason.

The fox, when rummaging around in the belongings of an actor, finds a mask and thinks that it is very beautiful, but laments its lack of sense as this, to the wily fox, makes the beautiful mask worthless.

The overall take-home being ‘what use is beauty without brains?’

I am almost certain that this fable has been used by some male scholar somewhere to prove the hypothesis that pretty women cannot be intelligent (a view that is dangerously taken into some young adult literature, where the popular, pretty girl is painted as stupid and the super special protagonist with all of her book smarts feels superior because of it – this fable is not without its problems).

It’s not the message that appeals to me in this case but the imagery. I love the idea of a fox rooting around and being fascinated by a theatre mask.

2. The Old Man and Death

0133-old-man-deathProbably one of the more famous fables (after The Tortoise and the Hare), The Old Man and Death is a story that I didn’t actually know came from Aesop for the longest time. I love the way the title sounds, I adore literature that involves death as a character (I touched on this in the briefest sense here but I think I might write an entire post about it, or series of posts about death in popular culture… we shall see). I love the way the title sounds, it’s a very pleasant title to roll off the tongue (I prefer it to the alternative used for some translations, The Poor Man and Death).

The story goes thus: a weak old man is gathering (or carrying) a bundle of sticks, and under the weight of the burden the old man falls to the ground. He calls upon Death to come and end his woes because he is too old and too weak to deal with them anymore, but when Death arrives the old man grows frightened and decides he wants a little more time, claiming that he only called upon Death to help him shoulder his burden so that he might be free to go about his business.

The old man has been described as ‘taking liberties’ with Death and I love that, I love the idea of a character dramatically calling on Death to end their suffering on multiple occasions, each time deciding that actually dropping a pile of sticks is probably not a good enough reason to die. Very sorry, Death. Please continue your reaping elsewhere, no reaping needed here. No, sir.

3. The Travellers and the Bear

THE-TRAVELLERS-AND-THE-BEAR-1-q6812This is one of those fables which I should have paid more attention to long before I did. Most fables, I like because of the imagery but this one, I enjoy because of the hard-learned lesson it presents. (That said, I do also enjoy bears.)

Two travellers walk among a forest when suddenly a bear comes upon them. Despite having agreed to protect each other one of the travellers, thinking only of himself, scambles up a tree and out of the way, leaving the other on the ground. The second traveller lies still, pretending to be dead and lets the bear sniff him, believing the common assumption that bears will not eat dead meat.

When the bear leaves, the first traveller descends from the tree and, with a laugh, asks his companion what the bear said to him. The second traveller replies that the bear had given him good advice, and warned him not to trust those who would leave him to save their own skin.

Essentially it presents a test of true friendship where, if the first traveller were a true friend to the second, he would not have left him to die at the paws and jaws of the bear. When things get tough, friends don’t look first to protect themselves.

It’s not a perfect message, everyone is selfish, no matter how good a friend they are. In the context of someone’s life, it might not be a betrayal to abandon you to a bear, but something they have to do for any number of good reasons. (The bear metaphor is pretty thin here, I can’t think of a good reason to essentially feed someone to a bear but you get the idea.)

4. The Moon and her Mother

moon-and-motherI’ve saved the best for last. This is my favourite of all of the fables I have ever read and I can’t imagine that changing anytime soon. This is one of those rare tales where I like both the imagery and the moral.

It is a simple story, consisting only of this:

The moon once asked her mother if she might make her a gown.

“How can I?” her mother replied, “Sometimes you’re a New Moon, and other times you’re a Full Moon, and between the two you’re neither full nor new. There’s no gown I could make that would fit all of you.”

The traditional moral is that if you’re always changing, nothing will fit. No one will know who you are and neither will you. Or, if you’re always changing you will never get what you really want. Or alternatively, don’t commit to something you cannot keep to.

I take it to mean all of those things and something different (I alternate) but this is my preferred moral and the moral I will always think of first: there is no gown that is big enough for all that you are. You are so big and complex and detailed that there is no one thing that can epitomise everything about you, and yes, you will change but you will also always be the same; the moon is still the moon even when it’s in its different phases.

When I feel like my skin doesn’t quite fit, I think of The Moon and her Mother and I feel a little bit better.


So there you have it, four of my favourite fables on this very changeable Thursday. (I was going to say gloomy because it was raining but the weather seems to be having an identity crisis. We’ve had blazing sunshine, rain, wind, snow, hail, everything short of storm.)

Do you have any favourite fables? Do you take away different messages than I do? Have you ever made up your own, if so, what was it?

Happy Thursday!

Review: Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

26804769A startling and evocative novel, harkening to both One Day and Gravity, a man and a woman revisit memories of their love affair on a utopian Earth while they are trapped in the vast void of space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left.

After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world.

As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read.

Before I say anything: look at that cover, take it in. It is gorgeous. The hardback is beautifully produced, with some of the stars spot varnished it really looks like a shining space scene. I bloomin’ love well-designed books.

I will admit, this was a cover buy – well, it was a birthday present but it was a cover wishlist add. It looks beautiful and it has stars on it.

But it’s so much more than a pretty book. I really didn’t know what to expect but the whole thing was poignant and heartbreaking. I cannot recommend it enough, it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.

At its heart,  Hold Back the Stars is a love story. It follows Carys and Max. It is the last moments of their lives, and how they each got to be there. It is their journey and their tragedy and it is breathtaking. The characters are so well-written, I really felt for them which is so important for a book which is so deeply character-led.  The supporting cast was also wonderful and I really don’t have any complaints.

The world-building was excellent, it was unlike anything I’ve seen before. In fact, the whole book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Due to the nature of the story, it was very much about the little details and the details soared in this book, every question I had about the world was answered on the page, it’s like the book was reading my mind.

I just loved it. I am so happy when a book I know little about turns into a book I love and this definitely happened with this one. It is as beautiful inside as it is out and I want everyone to read it.

Ghibli Heroines Tag

Hello, hello. I had a tiny blogging break which you may not have even noticed. The reason why will become clear in the near future (check me out being all mysterious). I think it’s great, and it is, and you will know about it soon.

I am finally getting around to doing this super cool new tag by Kate! I love a good tag, especially one that I’ve not seen around much. I feel all exclusive. I feel special. Everyone loves feeling special so this is a brilliant thing.

The Rules:

  • Please pingback, rather than link to Kate@Melting Pots and Other Calamities. She will only know if you’ve done this tag if you pingback.
  • Tag as many people as you want. Ghibli movies aren’t as popular as Disney or Pixar, so be careful that those you tag are at least somewhat familiar with Ghibli.
  • You can use examples from books, movies, TV shows, anime/manga, and webcomics.
  • As this tag celebrates heroines, please name either a piece of fiction or a female character, if you’re able.
  • Have fun!

Questions: 

Nausicaa, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: (Even though this isn’t technically Ghibli, it’s still marketed that way). Nausicaa is a princess in a post-disaster world. She is compassionate and brave, a daring explorer who is capable and selfless.  Name a strong female leader. 

Oof. Well. Hm. I know Samantha Shannon hates the ‘strong female’ phrase (because it suggests that to be valuable, women cannot be vulnerable) but Paige from The Bone Season series applies in this case. She isn’t without vulnerability, and she makes mistakes, and she does fall and find it hard to get back up again, but she does what has to be done and she leads in a way that I’ve not really seen from a female character in fiction before.

Sheeta, Castle in the Sky: Although Sheeta may have a quieter demeanour than other Ghibli heroines, she is not a damsel in distress. She’s royalty, but doesn’t stay on the sidelines; she is involved, kind, and despite a sad past, hopeful. Name an inspiring member of royalty. 

I am British, so I absolutely cannot pass up the chance to mention the Queen. I love the Queen. I am one of those people. She’s wonderful. So to slightly cheat on this, I am going to choose Queen Elizabeth as portrayed in Netflix’s The Crown, but also Victoria (in Victoria).

Their characters as portrayed in both series (and the book in the case of Victoria) are based on real women and I think that’s why they’re so great. They exist/have existed, they have both been quite revolutionary, and as a little girl, I was obsessed.

Satsuki and Mei, My Neighbour Totoro: Before Anna and Elsa, before Lilo and Nani, there was Satsuki and Mei. Satsuki was incredibly young when their mother was hospitalised, and with their father at work, she has to take care of Mei. And Mei is only four, with a big imagination. Name a pair of siblings (or two friends who act like siblings). 

Tolya and Tamar, the twins from The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. I am partway through Ruin and Rising (having finished Shadow and Bone, and Siege and Storm the other day – reviews to come) and I love them. They are excellent.

It troubles me that I can’t think of two female characters to list here. I am sure they exist. I am sure there are some fictional female siblings or friends that act like siblings who I adore. I might have to look into this.

Kiki, Kiki’s Delivery Service: Kiki has to go off on her own to live alone, as is the custom among witches. She goes through many things that newly independent young adults face, like money problems, finding a place to stay, job searching, and loneliness, before finding her way thanks to her special abilities. Name a female character who has supernatural gifts.

Another pick from the series I am currently reading: Alina Starkov. She is thrust into the life of a Grisha and I am loving being on the ride with her.

Gina and Fio, Porco Rosso: Gina and Fio are both heroines in this film, and they couldn’t be less alike. Gina is a young woman who is very feminine, a singer and a restaurant owner. However, she is very resourceful and capable. Fio is a teenage mechanic who is independent, goes against the flow, and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She may be one of the best mechanics of her time. Name two inspiring heroines; one who is unabashedly feminine, and another who is more of a tomboy. 

I feel like the age of the tomboy has passed, there’s a lot less ‘boys must do this and girls must do this’ to be rebelled against in fiction now. The stigma around being girlish, and being like other girls is lessening and authors are responding with some unapologetically girly characters (I love it). When I read the word ‘tomboy’ there is no longer a character that comes to mind, or, in fact, any particular kind of person. A girl who would have been labelled a tomboy when I was a child for liking sports and playing in the mud and not wearing dresses is no longer a tomboy, she’s just a girl who likes sports and playing in the mud and not wearing dresses.

When I read the word ‘tomboy’ there is no longer a character that comes to mind, or, in fact, any particular kind of person. A girl who would have been labelled a tomboy when I was a child for liking sports and playing in the mud and not wearing dresses is no longer a tomboy, she’s just a girl who likes sports and playing in the mud and not wearing dresses.

So the tomboy portion of this question is hard to answer, and I don’t think I want to use that label. We’re going to slide on down to the feminine character, and we’re going to go with Genya from The Grisha Trilogy. She definitely has the feminine vibe going for her.

Angel, On Your Mark: On Your Mark is a music video that Ghibli helped a music group with. It may not have much of a story, but it’s beautiful and interesting, and not may people are aware of its existence. Name an underrated heroine. 

September from Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series. (You didn’t think I was going to get through a book-related tag without mentioning her, did you?) I don’t see a huge amount of people talking about this series, and it makes me sad. September is fantastic. She grows up through the books and she makes hard decisions, and she never fails to save the day in some manner.

Shizuku, Whisper of the Heart: Shizuku is an eighth-grade student who can’t quite focus on school as much as on her favourite books. However, through encounters with an ambitious boy who seems to have a likely chance at meeting his goals, a cat who rides trains, an antique shop owner, and a cat statue called The Baron, Shizuku is determined to meet her own goal and become a writer. Name your most relatable character. 

Oh goodness. I do not know how to answer this question. I don’t so much relate to many characters because what I read is often very much not anchored in realism and the troubles faced by the characters I read about are not really the sort of thing I can share in. That’s not to say that fantasy characters can’t be relatable – they can – I just try not to put myself into what I’m reading in that way.

That said, for the sake of answering this question, Carys from Hold Back the Stars (review to come) loves both space and learning new things, which are things I love too. So we’ll go with Carys.

San, Princess Mononoke: San has been raised by wolves her whole life. When humans begin to invade her home forest to make towns and use the resources for themselves while killing the spirits and animals within, San refuses to let it be. She takes a stand and becomes the village’s  greatest obstacle. She is such a force to be reckoned with that they even give her a name; The Princess Mononoke. Name a female character who is physically strong.

Well, obviously this spot is reserved for Buffy Summers. The slayer has a huge pool of strength to draw from. Sure, it’s powered by ancient demon essence but strength is strength.

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Chihiro, Spirited Away: At the beginning of Spirited Away, Chihiro starts off as a whiny, spoiled ten-year-old girl. However, during her time working at the spirit’s Bath House, she discovers parts of herself she didn’t know she had. The story is about her finding the strength she already had but was unaware of. Name a character who has an amazing character journey.

Lupe! She grew so much throughout her short time in The Girl of Ink and Stars that she absolutely has to be mentioned. Her character development is one of the standout things from the novel.

Haru, The Cat Returns: Haru is a typical high school girl; kind, clumsy, and a little forgetful. But she soon finds herself involved in events that are out of her control. In a way, it is because of her normalcy that she can find her way out of her situation and become stronger because of it. Name a female character who may not have any supernatural abilities herself, but is memorable anyway.

The first character that comes to mind is Tamika Flynn from Welcome to Night Vale. Sure, she has an incredibly impressive reading ability and a penchant for violence but to my knowledge, she doesn’t technically have any powers, and yet she is one of the most wonderful of Night Vale’s eclectic selection of inhabitants. 

Sophie, Howl’s Moving Castle: Sophie doesn’t think much of herself for a lot of the story. She doesn’t think she’s pretty or memorable, especially when compared to her younger sister, Lettie. It gets even worse when she’s cursed to look like an old woman. When she finds a new life that involves the mysterious wizard Howl, a fire demon, Howl’s apprentice, and many others, she is shown to be resilient and intuitive. Name an emotionally strong character.

Evie Snow from On the Other Side. She makes such difficult, selfless decisions and lives with the emotional scars to show for it. Well, the emotional scars come out of her in beautiful ways, via the medium of magical realism. She gives up everything for someone else’s happiness and that is a true sign of emotional strength, that she could function and live life through to old age is a testament to her character.

Ponyo, Ponyo: Ponyo is one of the youngest Ghibli heroines at only five years old. But she still gets a lot done, including becoming human, discovering things, finding a best friend, and saving the world. Name a hero who happens to be a child.

September again. Always September. She is my favourite child hero and she quite possibly always will be.

Arrietty, The Secret World of Arrietty: Arrietty is a Borrower; she is tiny and survives by stealing small things that humans won’t miss. Yet she’s curious about the human world, and does braver things than most humans would be incapable of doing, despite her tiny size. Name an unlikely hero.

This has to be Deeba from China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun. She is very much not the chosen one but gets on with things anyway. She’s feisty and fabulous, and she’s proof that you don’t have to be the chosen one to be the hero.

Nahoko, The Wind Rises: Nahoko has tuberculosis during World War 2. However, she doesn’t allow this to cripple her, and enjoys life to the fullest anyway, which includes painting and falling in love. Even being placed in a sanitarium doesn’t break her. Name an inspiring character with some sort of obstacle. 

Olivia Moore (of iZombie fame), if you consider being a still sentient zombie who has to eat brains to keep her wits and subsequently takes on personality traits from said brain an obstacle. I do. Being a zombie can’t be fun, even if the personality traits can be very helpful for the solving of murders and the ignoring of your own problems.

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Kaguya, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: in a time where women were expected to follow social norms such as blackening teeth, shaving eyebrows, and being forced into arranged marriages, Kaguya refuses to play along. She would much rather be outside, dance, and play with friends. Name a female character who challenges social norms.

Hm. This one should come easily but it hasn’t… hm. I’m going to go with Evie Snow again because she does take the year to try to go it her own way instead of going the Snow way. True, she ends up going the Snow way anyway but that’s her choice for the sake of her brother, rather than something she is forced into. Her social norms may not be the social norms of the layperson but they still count!

I am also going to mention Carys again because she doesn’t idolise the Rotation in Hold Back the Stars, she likes to remember her life in the mountains of Wales, and she forms a love match when she knows she shouldn’t.

Whew! That was actually really difficult.

I want this tag to do well so I’ve found some cool anime bloggers to tag! (Hello, cool anime bloggers.) So without further ado, here they are:

Karandi from 100 Word Anime

Fujinsei

Reads, Rhythms & Ruminations

The Lily Garden

icebreaker694

Marvelously Mismatched

Nick from Anime Corps

Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

24590694Night Vale is a small desert town where all the conspiracy theories you’ve ever heard are actually true. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked ‘KING CITY’ by a mysterious man in a tan jacket. She can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City before she herself unravels.

Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.

Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: ‘KING CITY’. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures …if they can ever find it.

We are still on the Welcome to Night Vale train here on eloucarroll.com. We regret nothing.

(We being I, me, Elou, all on my lonesome. I like to think I’m royal and thus able to pull off the royal ‘we’, do I succeed? You decide. My deciding would be nepotism, and my nepotism would say yes. Yes, I do.)

Anyway, let’s avoid any more tangents, shall we? (There I go again…)

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is, you guessed it, a novel based on the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I would recommend listening to at least some of the podcasts or picking up Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe (the script books for the first two years of the podcast) before you read the novel. Not only will you be more invested by that point but you will also have some idea of what to expect and some familiarity with the setting and some of the characters. The novel does mention things that have occurred previously on the podcast.

Or you could go into it blind and be in for a wild, wild ride. (No, really, you should probably familiarise yourself with Night Vale – I’m not sure it’s hugely accessible for new readers unless you already know what you’re in for.)

As you might have gathered from the blurb Welcome to Night Vale is weird. Unlike American Elsewhere, which I read and reviewed recently, the weird in Night Vale is the random sort of weird that always manages to take you by surprise. I am amazed at the imaginations of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor but I am even more amazed at their ability to make all of the random things which make Night Vale what it is work together. I always thought that there was such a thing as too out there. Fink and Cranor continue to prove me wrong.

Interspersed with the familiar radio stylings of Cecil, the novel itself follows Diane and Jackie, two unlikely heroines who are thrown together (much to their disgruntlement) by circumstances beyond their control. Both linked by the mysterious stranger in the tan jacket and his cryptic two-word message of ‘KING CITY’. Jackie and Diane are wildly different, and it’s great that we get to experience the story through both of their perspectives, with some chapters happening parallel to one another.

However, it’s not until the last couple of chapters that the plot actually gets anywhere and I think that’s why it took me so long to read (it took me over a week, which is a long time for me at my current reading speed). The wild ride I mentioned earlier was not the wild ride of the plot – that was the wild ride of Night Vale as a thing. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the novel but it could probably have been a fair bit shorter. What works in a short podcast doesn’t necessarily work for a long-form novel. There’s lots of exposition but not enough plot to really justify it, for the podcast this would be perfect but the novel could have done without it. That said, I do love the narrative style (even if it does go every direction except forwards for a lot of the novel). It has a habit of pointing out things that we all know but never really think about, which I really enjoy. At the end of the book, there’s a sentence which spans across three pages. I didn’t notice that it was all the same sentence at first. Until I did. I’m not sure what I think about that but I think that I like how my mind just accepted it and succumbed to the power of the sentence. (I am suddenly worried that the sentence is going to leap out of the book and make a bid at world domination. If any book could convince its sentences to jump ship and take over the world, it would probably be this one.)

Welcome to Night Vale is a mixed bag and it could go either way, I enjoyed it but there are so many reviews from existing fans and Night Vale newbies alike who thought it just fell flat. I can see where they’re coming from. Personally, I like rambling, pointless stories (as long as they have a point of interest, narrative style or characters that I can engage with) but I know a lot of people don’t and if a book’s plot doesn’t really show up until the last few chapters, that’s going to be a problem.

So while I do recommend this book, I recommend it with a pinch of salt. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and even though I enjoyed it, I would recommend you explore Night Vale a bit before you pick up the novel to avoid being thrown head-first into a pit of confusion.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Deathly Hallows

9781408855959_309031We did it! We completed a series! The blog is alive! Alive with the sound of pages ruffling and words shuffling about on the spot waiting to be read. I am proud of this.

Here we are, on the last stop of our journey. The Deathly Hallows.

This book is painful. It hits you right in the gut so many times. With every grave injury or character death, I felt a crack splinter into my heart. It takes its toll – a mark of good writing.

It’s amazing to compare this to The Philiospher’s Stone, the two books are so different and yet they still feel like the same series. True, The Deathly Hallows is a much older, more experienced, and hardened brother to the sweet, innocent Philosopher’s but they are still brothers.

Speaking of brothers, I adore the Tale of the Three Brothers and I wish more folksy fairy tales were included in the body of the series. It added so much to the story and it felt like a real tale. I am a sucker for stories within stories.

Another thing I love about this book is that we get to visit the Ravenclaw common room and its wonderful riddle entry system. I identify as a Ravenclaw (if I haven’t already made that abundantly obvious) so I was so happy when the common room popped up in the books. It’s so wonderfully appropriate, I just want to curl up in there with a good book.

I am, however, still waiting for an epic Ravenclaw protagonist.

We get more helpings of McGonagall, who is just as bad-ass as I wanted her to be. It goes without saying (yet here I am saying it) that I am very much here for more McGonagall, in all of her forms. I am so glad she survives to pass her sass on to future generations of Hogwarts.

Like most Potter fans, however, I feel a great sense of exasperation towards the epilogue. I don’t think it was necessary and I think Harry needs to drastically improve his choice of names. There is no way Ginny had anything to do with that monstrosity. I refuse to believe otherwise.

I don’t quite know how to end this. I’d never thought this far. So I a just going to end it with this:

I bloody love these books. Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

#FolkloreThursday Favourites: Retellings and Folklore-based books

I’ve been following the Folklore Thursday tag on Twitter for a while and it has only just now occurred to me that perhaps I should do some Folklore Thursday happenings on my blog. I am not sure how this managed to pass me by for so long but pass me by it did.

No longer! I am going to try for an interesting folkloric/fairy tale-esque post every week. It’ll give me more excuses to read folklore, so I am excited.

For my first foray into the world of Folklore Thursday, I am going to share some of my favourite retellings and books based heavily on folklore.  Hoorah.

1. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

9781472108685Oh my goodness. I am still not over this book. If you’ve been lurking in this corner of the internet for a while, you already know how much I love this book.

It tells the tale of Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless, and it is probably my favourite book. It is the book that made me interested in Russian/Slavic folklore and mythology (an interest which is very much bubbling at the moment). It is lyrical and beautiful and dark and painful, and I will never get over it. Ever.

I will always recommend this book, it is the first book I mention whenever someone needs something to read.

2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

4407If you’ve not heard of this book before: 1. How? 2. Look it up, look it up right now.

American Gods is fantastic. So fantastic that it will soon be a TV show. I am eager. I’m not sure whether I will actually be able to watch it from my little flat in the West Midlands but I am eager.

Unlike DeathlessAmerican Gods does not just focus on one particular country’s mythology. It has everything, it even creates new things. New gods. New gods which make me want to squeeze them until they break. Ahem. Bit scary there, sorry about that. It’s a jaunt through many mythologies and comes highly recommended.

3. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

276750I discovered this book in college, I think. Someone had found it or been reading it and was outraged by the dark, dark story ‘The Snow-Child’. Of course, I had to read it for myself and then I had to buy the book.

Again, this collection draws from a lot of different places and isn’t just a collection of retellings of tales I was familiar with. My favourite stories are: ‘The Bloody Chamber’ from which the collection gets its name, which tackles the story of Bluebeard; and ‘The Erl-King’, a story featuring a figure from Danish and German folklore, who I’ve been interested in since discovering a wonderfully dark piece of Labyrinth fan fiction which uses the tale as its inspiration. If you like a bit of darkness, give both the Carter and the fan fiction a read.

4. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

24886019Of course, of course, there is another Valente book on here. How could there not be? She just has so many greats to choose from! This book is gorgeous, both in the writing and in the illustrations by Charlie Bowater. I have long loved her work and was so happy to discover that it would be paired with Valente’s writing.

Six-Gun Snow White is a Western take on, you guessed it, Snow white and it’s a take only Valente could think up. I adore it. It’s a quick read, I discovered it last year and I am pretty sure I devoured it in one sitting.  It’s a wonderful twist on the tale and is just as very enjoyable experience all round. Plus, the hardback is beautiful.

5. The Book of Lost Things  by John Connolly

69136I’ve mentioned this book briefly on the blog before. It’s lovely. Aimed at younger readers, it includes a number of different fairy tales as well as a few little things of its own. Definitely one I intend to read to any potential future children I might end up having.

My love for this book also comes from my experience of it. My copy is delightfully deformed. The book block has been put into the hardcover upside down and back to front. I wouldn’t have noticed if not for the fact that I like to look under the jacket. Much to my amusement, I found the embossed cover upside down on the back of the book. It just seemed to suit the novel so well that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

6. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

25493853The most recent read of this list, The Bear and the Nightingale is another book based in Russian folklore. I will be posting a full review in the near future so won’t say too much here. I will say that as soon as I saw the cover of this book that I needed it. I didn’t even know what it was about at that point but I needed it. Just look at it, it’s beautiful.

It draws on folklore that I hadn’t yet discovered, which made me deliriously happy and has a wonderful way about it, which I will talk more about in my review.

I know a lot of people had been excitedly anticipating this book until its release on January 12th – it was worth it.

So there you have it. Six of my favourites. I’m always on the look out for more books of this ilk so please do tell me your favourites in the comments – recommend some books! All of the books! I may have a mighty TBR pile but there is always room for more.

Tune in next week (we hope) for a list of books I want to read, and the week after (we hope even more fiercely) for something that isn’t a list.

Have a lovely Thursday!

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Half-Blood Prince

9781408855942_309034I am nearing the end of my nostalgic Harry Potter not-quite re-readathon posts (the actual not-quite re-readathon having taken place this time last year, cue whistling) and I am so happy about how excited I still get about these books (I wear my Ravenclaw jumper with pride – it is my favourite and I never want to take it off but if I do, I have a hoodie to wear in its place because I am just that invested). Even if I did hide my excitement for a number of years to hide my shame at not finishing the fourth book in one go.

This book makes me happy for many reasons but one of those is Ginny Weasley. I’d long seen the internet shouting about how great Ginny was but having only read to the middle of book four, and watching the films, I didn’t quite understand why before. I thought it was excellent but I didn’t understand. Now I do. Ginny Weasley is the greatest injustice in the films and I am so sad that I did not know that until last year. Well, I knew through tumblr but I didn’t really know.

Even though I think I got more out of this from reading it as an adult than I would have if I’d read it when I was younger, I wish I’d had Ginny in my life while I was in my teens. She is just the sort of role model I needed. If only I had a time turner. (Though, I can imagine so many ways that could go wrong. It’s probably for the best that I don’t have one. I can definitely see the world crashing down around me as soon as I caught up with the present. Or I would go too far back and just cease to exist in the present. I wonder if it works that way, I don’t even know.)

I also missed out on the hilarity that was Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown. I just… It’s great to see a ridiculous romance in teen fiction. There are too many all-important, way-too-serious romances in YA. Yes, some teens do have wonderful and meaningful and their-world-will-end-if-it-ends scenarios but a lot of teen relationships are ridiculous and over the top and incredibly cringe-worthy. It’s nice to see that teens in books also have those relationships. Perhaps, if I’d’ve read this book back then wouldn’t have been quite so ridiculous. I mean, I probably would be. But you never know.

I find it hard to pick a favourite book out of the last three in the series. I love them all whole-heartedly, as I always hoped I would. I did feel a sense of dread getting to the end of this one (which is unsurprising considering what happens at the end of this one), I knew I only had one more book before I had to stop reading them. I wasn’t ready for Harry Potter to leave my life. (My worries were unfounded, I later saw Fantastic Beasts and recently visited the House of MinaLima so the world of Harry Potter is still very much in my life – hooray!) It’s always nice to get that invested in a series.

I know I am preaching to the choir with these posts and that I was very late on the boat but at least the boat wasn’t so far out to sea that I could no longer catch it. There is still a community to be a part of and I think there always will be. This makes me happy.

Review: Dangerous Women (Part 1) edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

23018850Commissioned by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, these tales of dangerous women by the most stellar names in fiction are available for the first time in three-volume paperback.

This first volume features an original 35,000 word novella by George R.R. Martin.‘The Princess and the Queen’ reveals the origins of the civil war in Westeros (before the events in A Game of Thrones), which is known as the Dance of the Dragons, pitting Targaryen against Targaryen and dragon against dragon.

Other authors in this volume of warriors, bad girls and dragonriders include worldwide bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson, Lawrence Block and Nancy Kress.

Contents
Gardner Dozois’s introduction
George R. R. Martin, ‘The Princess and the Queen’
Carrie Vaughn, ‘Raisa Stepanova’
Nancy Kress, ’Second Arabesque, Very Slowly’
Lawrence Block, ‘I Know How to Pick ‘Em’
Megan Abbott, ‘My Heart Is Either Broken’
Joe R. Lansdale, ‘Wrestling Jesus’
Brandon Sanderson, ‘Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell’

PRIOR WARNING I have a lot of thoughts about some of these stories so there will be spoilers. Only read on if this is not a problem for you.

Now with that out of the way – I had high hopes for this collection despite the dull blurb we are offered on the book’s back cover. I have forgotten why I had high hopes when I added it to my wish list (it was so long ago) but high hopes were had.

I’ve been in the mood to read about fierce and wonderful and dangerous women, and thought the time was right considering the Women’s Marches going on around the world. I was ready to read about women, women who would empower me, women who would terrify me, women who were strong.

The introduction promised me things, several things and I couldn’t help but go back and hiss liiiiies at it every so often while I read. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the collection overall and will still be reading parts two and three but my hopes are considerably lower. This book did not do what it said on the tin. (George R.R. Martin, I am looking at you in particular.)

As it’s a collection of short stories by different authors, I want to focus on each separately. Buckle up, kids. This is going to be a long one.

Continue reading

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Order of the Phoenix

9781408855935_309037Phew. We are past my problem book. That’s a relief. The sense of relief I felt when I closed Goblet of Fire was paled only by the excitement of finally being able to read further into the series. I had waited years for this moment.

It was actually quite daunting. What if I didn’t like it? What if I’d built it up so much in my head that nothing I could read would compare to that build up? Had I ruined it for myself? I’d watched my friends fall in love with the last few books and I was so worried that I had missed it, that somehow by not reading them when they came out my enjoyment of them would cease to exist before it had even considered existing. Luckily, I was worrying for nothing.

I love the later books in this series. Even if I do get a little frustrated with Harry. But what’s a bit of frustration between friends, eh?

This book has a special place in my heart for one main reason: we actually find out what’s happening by way of prophecy. Before this book, each story seemed more separate. Goblet of Fire led us to this, and Order of the Phoenix dumped us head first into the crux of the story.

We lost even closer friends than Cedric, and our hearts were all but ripped out of our chests. (Just you wait… I could hear the pages whispering to me as I read. I knew what was coming, of course but that’s for later entries.) J.K. Rowling, I have realised, is ruthless. Maybe not the upfront kind of ruthless, but a quiet kind that sits in the back until just the right moment. That kind.

I cannot write this post without mentioning Dumbledore’s Army. This book is a gift because it gave us Dumbledore’s Army. A group of young people who want to learn, who want to defend themselves and who are afraid but don’t let that fear get in their way – a lesson we could all learn from. We get to see a lot more of the supporting characters in these scenes, which brings me to my next reason that this book is a gift. Luna Lovegood. Little Luna, lovely Luna. There is nothing I dislike about Luna, she is my tiny fave, and she should be protected at all costs. The fact that she is in Dumbledore’s Army is so lovely and poignant, especially considering she doesn’t have many existing friends that we know of – not that that bothers her. It is heartwarming to see her being accepted.

There is a third reason that this book is a gift (I know, three reasons in one book – I could list more, don’t tempt me), and that is sassy!McGonagall. I love McGongall. She is easily my favourite teacher, and not-so-easily my favourite adult character (alongside Molly Weasley).

Even though the story takes a dark turn, we still get humour in the scenes with McGongall and Umbridge (I do not like Umbridge), and for that I am thankful.

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

27827627Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I’ve wanted to read this book for a while. I read the first paragraph on amazon many moons ago and knew I had to read it.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.

It’s a fantastic opening paragraph. That combined with the idea of a Wood with malevolent power and I was all in.

It follows Agnieszka as she is chosen by the Dragon to serve him in his tower for 10 years as he works to keep the Wood from consuming the valley, and the kingdom with it.

I didn’t know how fairy tale-esque the novel would be (the clue should have been in the ‘girl serves dragon in his tower for 10 years but apparently my brain didn’t pick up on that very large cue), I don’t know what my expectations were before reading but they weren’t that! I love fairy tales, and I love stories that feel like fairy tales. So Uprooted was a win.

I really enjoyed the way magic was presented, and the different methods of using it, as well as the names given to the various wizards. They made me very happy. One thing I wished for though, was more of Jaga. I adore the mythology she is based on and would have loved to have seen a little bit more on that.

However, the thing that stole the show was the Wood itself, how it was described, the back story, all of it. I adore the Wood more than anything else, though I think Kasia comes close second.

It’s a lovely little standalone, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good fairy tale.