magic

Nevermoor | Jessica Townsend

34219873Nevermoor has been getting a lot of praise everywhere and I was really excited to read it. I got both the book and audiobook and I was prepared to dive into the newest great children’s book. I’m a huge collector and reader of children’s literature and I approached this book with an open mind, hoping to be transported and have all the good feelings that accompany the reading children’s books. The first 100 pages were great! We get introduced to Morrigan Crow who is from this family of “Crows.” Her father (Corvus) is the mayor, an influential politician, and kind of distanced from her as she is cursed. Everywhere she goes something bad happens. The world she is in “now” is not too developed or explained, we just get a sense that every once in a while a child is cursed and when they hit age 12 they die. Morrigan lives with the knowledge that she will die by 12. Knowing this, I kind of thought that maybe her family was distancing themselves from her so that they don’t get attached because they know she will die. The suspense of it all is quite different than other books and I respect that there was more showing than explaining, and kind of action-packed. On the eve of her 11th birthday Morrigan finds that this was actually the day she’s supposed to die, but gets approached by a man who purchases her at auction, named Jupiter North. He calls her Mog and saves her from her fate, takes her to Nevermoor, and enrolls her into a race/contest for children for her to earn the rights to stay in Nevermoor. Up until this point I can see many comparisons, as many have already mentioned, that Morrigan Crow is basically Harry Potter. She’s mistreated in her previous life, she’s a cursed/chosen one, and she enters a new magical realm with a guide/mentor. Once in Nevermoor the book turns into a hybrid of The Hunger Games, and The Goblet of Fire, where there are just countless contests where the children must “prove” themselves worthy of joining the Wundrous Society in Nevermoor. For Morrigan it’s even more important because she’s an ‘illegal’ and by winning she can get to stay in Nevermoor. I’m not going to say much more plot-wise. This is the general premise. It definitely has its strengths and its own spins. I enjoyed the diversity  in this work. From the names one can tell that some characters come from different backgrounds. The language is elevated and certainly respects children’s literacy skills, perhaps even presenting some challenges. I particularly enjoyed was finding out that Jupiter’s “powers” are seeing things as they are …truly. He is sort of a magical version of Sherlock Holmes where he can look at something, observe it and truly know everything about it, and most importantly see its potential. Jupiter says:

“It’s not a memory like yours or mine. It’s more like…how shall I put this? There are…events and moments in the past that attach themselves to people and things, and cling to them through time simply because they have nowhere else to go. Maybe they eventually fade or get torn away or just die. But somethings never die—the especially good memories or the especially bad ones can hang around forever.”

This concept was very creative and I really enjoyed it. However, I felt like on many levels it was extremely unfocused. It jumped from place to place, from character to character, from sequence to sequence, without allowing the reader to get acquainted with a place, or attached to a character. No concept, location, or character is fully developed and it made the story feel very wobbly. I felt like the author kept changing direction and pointing to something else every few sentences. It was as if the author tried to squeeze Harry Potter 1-5 in one book, told by Dr. Seuss, and then made a list of everything that sounded sort of cool and just threw them in fast without any time to process. The chandelier grows out in the shape of a ship like a tooth would, there’s a vampire-dwarf, or dwarf-vampire and there’s a difference, the concept of Morrigan being an ‘illegal,’ the random side characters thrown in, the umbrellas, the contest, what the actual Wundrous society is and what does it do, the children’s auction, before she’s about to die her step-mom mentioning she’s pregnant like in a soap opera. Everything happened so fast that it felt rushed, and nothing is fully developed. The characters hardly had any depth. The ‘bad’ girl was just ‘bad’ and annoying. One Goodreads reviewer said that Townsend must have put all these fun facts or fun ideas in a hat and just pulled them out at random, and that it resembles Hotel Transylvania…and that’s how I kind of felt reading this. There’s no foundation, the place doesn’t seem real or like it truly has a history. Jupiter North (despite the cool name) is a mash-up of Mary Poppins and Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder). He’s even described to look a lot like Gene Wilder in the Willy Wonka role. I felt the presence of the author the whole time and it was very transparent what she was trying to do, and what previously existing stories she was trying to mesh together.

Saying all that, and how transparent it was to me as a long-time reader, and superfan of children’s books…I don’t know if a child would be able to see through that, or if they would thoroughly enjoy it. I don’t believe children should be treated like they are not smart, or have short attention span, but if someone can’t see through every plot incident and every character and be able to point out exactly what it reminds you of, maybe this could be really enjoyable….that said, I can’t help but think of the C.S. Lewis line:

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Again, this novel was a mix and it had some pros and… it had some cons. I’d recommend trying it out because a MAJORITY of people seem to enjoy it, so clearly there’s something to this book, even if I’m not capable of seeing it.

My Life with Folk Tales & Fairy Tales

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I think everyone has a special story of their life alongside fairy tales—particularly bookish people. At one point you realize they’ve either been there all along, or you’ve spent your whole life chasing them. This post is very self-involved and for that I must apologize. If you don’t care about one person’s life in fairy tales (respectively mine) then don’t bother. If you care, read on!

Most of my childhood was spent in two separate locations in Romania, the first five years in absolute poverty in the middle of nowhere, and the second in an idyllic, pastoral village in the Carpathian mountains. For the first five years I have memories of my mother reading some Romanian folk tales to me—most of them were about revenge in a form of another and almost all had either anthropomorphic talking objects, or animals at their center. Images in my head of the first five years involve a goat with three kids (two of which get brutally murdered) who seeks revenge on the big bad wolf, the prince who turns into a pig every night and whose wife skins him alive, the competition between the ‘daughter of the old man’ and ‘daughter of the old lady,’ a rooster who swallows treasures, and a guy named Ivan who has a bag that traps demons while he is bunking with Satan in a jail cell…you know… your typical 5-year-old folk and fairy tales. Easter Europe is so broken. I find it so amusing when Western kids find out a small inappropriate fact about one of their fairy tales or children’s movies and say ‘childhood ruined.’ Really? Have you heard the one about Ivan bunking with Satan? How about the one where the prince comes back home only to find a coffin and be slapped in the face by Death? I am not making these up.

41SQXR8NNWLI did however get a Walkman as a gift from a visiting cousin (keep in mind the ’80s made it to Eastern Europe by the late ’90s) and he gave me alongside it a tape with “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Snow White.” You best believe I listened to that tape cassette a million times. I also have a vague memory of my kindergarten teacher (who was also the mayor, my next door neighbor, and the principal) doing puppet shows for us where the big bad wolf ate little red and I remember seeing its stomach bulging. The last memory of this place from the first five years was finding in the library (which was made of exactly 20 books and was located beneath the discotheque) a very thick, dusty book with stories. I couldn’t read it, but I remember the pictures and that it was massive and for some reason it stayed in my mind forever. I also remember pretending I’m in a coffin and saying: “Look mom, I’m Snow White!”

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My village

I then moved to the village in the Carpathian mountains with my grandparents. Here life was much much better. While living here “St. Nicholas” once gave me the collected fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen which became my bread and butter. “The Wild Swans” and “The Ugly Duckling” were my favourite but I cherished “The Little Match Girl” every Christmas since. It was so beautiful and sad. Reading these fairy tales while living on a farm in the mountains was so perfect. Each spring we had real ducklings and goslings, and baby bunnies, and sheep. It was merged into my relationship with fairytales and my overall loneliness as an only child. I once visited my cousin in the city and he had gotten a boxed fairy tale collection in which I was introduced for the first time to “The Princess and the Frog,” and “Rumpelstiltskin.” The latter stayed in my mind forever and I’ll never forget those illustrations. My cousin was lucky, he had so many fairy tale books and so many Disney movies. When I turned 7 my cousin’s family relocated to Canada which meant that they handed down those tapes to: ME!

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My copy of Andersen’s tales 

These are the tapes I had from age 7-10: Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Aristocats, 101 Dalmatians, and Sleeping Beauty. Most of these were two on the same tape, and sometimes with voice dubbed over with translation or just captions in Romanian. A few years later I got a present of a film of Snow White and The Wizard of Oz. Meanwhile on regular TV I watched only two things: The Adventures of Sinbad (a television series with live-action), and Xena: Princess Warrior.

Meanwhile, my knowledge of Romanian folklore was enriching with Ion Creanga’s memories from childhood series and a popular author-less folktale series containing a comical foolish peasant for whom everything somehow works out anyway named Pacala.

DwarfcottageAll these had a huge impact on my life choices. Having so little for so long made me remember each encounter with a fairy tale, and it stayed with me for very long. One day I was walking through the mountains (we had to go get our cow back) and I was on this walk with a family friend, who was in her 30s. As we were going up the mountain she pointed in a random direction and told me that if you go on a seven day journey in that direction you will come across the house where the seven dwarves lived, and that she’s personally been there. My jaw dropped. I was set on going to find it right then and there. It was the first time someone convincingly told me a lie. I never heard of grown-ups telling lies and I thought she’d have no reason to. Most importantly, I wanted it to be true. Every day I kept asking her to take me there so maybe I too can live with the dwarves. She always said no.

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Rumplestiltskin

Alongside regular fairy tales I was always deep into Eastern Orthodox narratives and hagiographies (which I later realized were taken out of The Golden Legend) and the traditions of the small town were quite morbid—and I was very involved. I’d go to funerals and they would take on days. I’d see the whole process of death from beginning to end. Mix that with the fairy tales and folk tales from earlier….yep.

Skip forward now to ages 10-14. I moved to Canada and had to learn a new language from scratch. I had no friends and my aunt had somehow become over the top religious in this time and took me with her to her church which was very very very different from anything in Europe. No birthdays, no Christmases, NO MAGIC. We weren’t allowed to read or watch anything with magic in it, and that included Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, several other Disney films, and anything relating to Santa Clause. These four years were filled with Bible Stories of another kind and there was a lot of fear. I really missed my fairy tales. At school kids were reading Harry Potter and I always felt like I was missing out on something. I kind of stuck by the kids who were into A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I read the first 5 books and dropped the series after that because I wasn’t too interested anymore. Every time I think of those four years I get really angry.

Luckily I moved out from her house at 14 and never looked back. Slowly I returned to fairy tales and watched every Disney movie I never saw before. By 15 I decided that I would become an artist and work for Disney one day and make magical movies for children. I worked on that portfolio for three years. Unfortunately it had many rigid demands and I wasn’t able to meet the standards or get in to a very competitive program, though I received a letter telling me that the storytelling components and ideas were some of the best they’ve ever seen and ranked highest on their charts, but the art work itself was not up to the standard of allowing me into a program with 10% acceptance rate. Changing course I went into literature because in the end…stories were what I was after. By 18 I discovered new children’s literature that blew me away like Peter Pan: the boy who never grew up, and got quite literally under my skin, and Alice in Wonderland, and Mary from the Secret Garden, and oh so so many more fairy tales. I discovered that the Sinbad I used to watch had been from the Arabian Nights or 1001 Nights and that there’s so much more mythology out there from Greek and Roman myth, to Egyptian legends, to Tolkien’s vast made-up world, and the vast world of Medieval legends. In the year between 18-19 I was just as alone in my parents’ house as I had been in my Carpathian village. I read non-stop that year. I read every Victorian book, Russian Lit book, I went down the lists of “100 books one must read” and got a grasp of the canon. At 19 I got into seven universities for their English programs and chose the University of Toronto. Here I made a chart of everything I wanted to know. I took a course on Greek and Roman Mytholgoy, many many others on every Arthurian and Medieval thing, Celtic Mythology, Children’s Literature, Slavic Folklore, the Finnish Kalevala, and even retellings from the post-colonial world including Maori and other Indigenous forms of writing back to the Canon. My head was booming with so much literature. It got to be overwhelming. The magic started flickering away many times when things got too academic. I was moments away from pursuing this topic further, but each time I had to stop myself because I didn’t want to kill what I loved about my fairy tales and myths.

B0MNwBdCYAAPUPZAt the same time I was introduced to Once Upon a Time, a television series produced by ABC that brings together all the fairy tale characters out there in a very soap-opera way (got me through some of the toughest times). This show became so important to me and every time things were bad I still had Once Upon a Time. Meanwhile, my sister (17 years younger) was starting to discover things for the first time and forced me to keep updated with the new kids movies, shows, and books. My Disney and Fairy Tale side started pulling me in my sister’s direction while my dark morbid side found Gothic Literature, Tim Burton, and LORE. Meanwhile movies like Frozen completely reawakened my memories of reading Hans Christian Andersen. Also the Romanian side of me found a lot of joy in the sort of perception of Romania as the cradle of Vampires and creepiness. Yeah, pretty much. Can’t disagree with you.

md17953497530I met some incredible academics along the way who did pursue this topic on a different trajectory. I spent a day with Maria Tatar, Harvard professor and (author of Enchanted Hunters, and most of the Annotated fairy tale books out the particularly on the Brothers Grimm). I took an independent research course on children’s literature focusing on what is magic really, and what makes it so different from technology, by zooming in on the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. (What a Muggle thing to do?!—from what I recall, my thesis was that communication is magic because there’s a lot of verbal incantations, signs, symbols, and textual preservation). I got very very involved with all sorts of projects involving children’s literature (click here if interested).

By fourth year I decided: I want to be very close to the books. I want to have them in my life. I want to participate in bookish culture and fairy tales will have a place in my life, but I will not become an academic. I will become a librarian!

So now I am a librarian with a library “job,” and Once Upon a Time just had its series finale last weekend….and I don’t know what to do with my life if I’m honest. People don’t interact with the library in the way I used to, or the way I fantasized they would. I feel no engagement with the actual books, and it’s really sad. I feel like subconsciously I chased fairy tales my whole life (but in a secret cool way that got to pass for acceptable in regular society). Somewhere in the last 4 years magic sort of started flickering away and I feel a little lost. I don’t know if this is a result of having read all of these, or actively studying them, or encountering too many retellings told poorly, or watching too many fairy tale spoofs like Shrek, Happily Never After, and short-format parodies…or losing the hope that maybe one day fairy tales will come true (though funny enough the royal wedding which happened alongside the Once Upon a Time finale was announced in the Toronto Star with the headline: “Happily Ever After”). Maybe it was also finding out that they weren’t special only to me. I always had this super-heightened intimate relationship to fairy tales and suddenly I found out that everyone does. I see people roll their eyes at the thoughts of a ‘fairy tale themed’ anything as if it’s something so cliche. I keep hunting for fairy tales. I try to decorate my apartment with fairy tale elements, I went to Disney World, I try to go in secret places…and they all turn out to be attractions. Nothing feels sacred, or special, or magical. I search for paintings, and art, and any semblance of anything that may come remotely close to feeling like it used to. Now I’m really into pirates for some reason. I still look into the distance sometimes and think about what that woman said to me: if you walk seven days in that direction, you will find the dwarves’ house. One day I’ll fucking do it!

Gork, the Teenage Dragon | Book Review

“For inside my scale green chest, there beats a grotesquely large and sensitive heart.”

32766443I hope this book gets turned into a children’s cartoon series because I would watch it with a lot of passion. Gork: the Teenage Dragon, is Gabe Hudson’s debut middle-grade fantasy novel. The narrative follows a dragon named Gork who, you guessed it, is a teenager. What’s particularly charming about this novel is its snappy humour. Gork narrates his story and in the first chapter he establishes himself as:

“My first name is Gork, my middle name is The, and my last name is Terrible, and like I said, I’m a dragon, plus I’m a poet”

But not before criticizing Beowulf and Tolkien to no end for their bad portrayal of dragons. He says:

“Mr. Tolkien was a real low-hearted sonuvabitch.”

Gork is in high school at WarWings Military Academy where he is a little different than the other dragons. He is afraid of heights, and really does have a large heart. His nickname is: Weak Sauce. His main purpose in this novel is to find himself a queen, for if he fails to do so he will become a slave forever.

Maybe I read Spinster, and All the Single Ladies too closely together this year and only in the last month, but this ‘despair’ that young Gork has throughout this novel really resembled for me the pressures society put on women in the past. You must find a husband or be ridiculed as a ‘spinster’ or enslaved in various other forms. I hope I’m not reading incorrectly into this children’s book, but this is the first time I’ve read a book where the male character is forced, nay, obliged and in ardent despair to find himself a partner. While other books have shown this dynamic from a male perspective, never with such urgency, and I’ve personally never encountered it in children’s literature. Well done Gabe Hudson!

Politics aside, I must return to the humour. This book is so funny. I found it funny as an adult who is quite in love with dragons and I wonder how the children would take this same humour. There’s something in his voice that echoes Lemony Snicket for me, though his publishers insist that it’s ‘Harry Potter meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’ Either way, I suggest we, the readers, allow Hudson to have his own voice through Gork. I also enjoyed the ways he doesn’t shy away from swearing a little bit (never vulgar though). Highly recommend! I would also suggest that parents read this book aloud to their children, or librarians to their students at circle reading time. It’s a great bonding book! I look forward to Hudson’s future novels.

This book is scheduled for publication on July 11, from Knopf Publishing Group.

The New Voices of Fantasy | Review

33838972The New Voices of Fantasy is an anthology compiled by Peter. S. Beagle (famously known for his work The Last Unicorn) and Jacob Wiseman. All the stories in this collection have been previously published between 2010 and 2017 in short story magazines like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. In 2010 Beagle edited another anthology The Secret History of Fantasy exploring the merging of genre fantasy and mainstream markets into a new form of literary fantasy. Wiseman asserts that “this anthology constitutes something of a sequel.”

Beagle begins his introduction to this anthology with a block quote paraphrasing an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination:

“Jules Verne, who always considered himself a scientist, was distinctly put out by the work of the younger writer H.G. Wells. ‘Il a invente!’ the author of From the Earth to the Moon sniffed at the author of The War of the Worlds. ‘He makes things up!’”

The older generation constantly unwilling to accept the young/new. What Verne could not accept was that Wells invented machines beyond what was mechanically possible—unlike what Verne did in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with the submarine—Wells expanded by creating a time machine. Beagle relates an anecdote from his experience as a young writer where one of his older teachers, Frank O’Connor, could not accept Beagle’s storytelling in the writing class back in the ‘60s because he was a fan of realism and classics. Beagle writes: “I was outraged at O’Connor’s rigidity.” The resistance from the older generation is not the only thing keeping young fantasy writers back–there is also the hierarchy, favouring ‘literary works’ and ‘realism’ above the innovations brought forward by fantasy. Ursula K. Le Guin tells Beagle:

“all of us [fantasy writers] feel, to one degree or another, that mainstream fiction has been stealing our ideas—and even our classic clichés—for generations, and selling them back to us as ‘Magical Realism.’”

Realism is not everything, and fantasy under a different name does not become more ‘literary’ or significant. Beagle and Le Guin ask us to open our eyes and see that it was Fantasy all along.

What Beagle does with this anthology is an elegant passing of the writing pen to a younger generation of fantasy writers, and he presents them to us, the readers, without rigidity as his teachers before him have. He accepts them as they are and is in awe of their risk-taking, creativity, and courage. I cannot imagine how many works Beagle must have read through to select these top 19 stories, but I had a hard time selecting my favourites, as each one of them brings something completely unique to the Fantasy cornucopia. His selection includes a great balance of men and women writers, as well as various backgrounds.

The stories featured in this anthology are as follows:

  • “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong
  • “Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar
  • Tornado’s Siren” by Brooke Bolander (opening line: “Rhea is nine years old when she first meets the tornado that will fall in love with her”)
  • “Left the Century to Sit Unmoved” by Sarah Pinsker
  • A Kiss with Teeth” by Max Gladstone (featuring Dracula as a suburban dad so worth reading)
  • “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon
  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
  • The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate” by A.C. Wise
  • “The Tallest Doll in New York City” by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • “The Haunting of Apollo A7LB” by Hannu Rajeniemi
  • Here Be Dragons” by Chris Tarry
  • “The One they Took Before” by Kelly Sandoval
  • “Tiger Baby” by JY Yang
  • “The Duck” by Ben Loory
  • “Wing” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • The Philosophers” by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
  • “My Time Among the Bridge Blowers” by Eugene Fischer
  • “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado
  • “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T. Malik

I linked some of my favourite ones, but in support of Beagle and his work I would recommend this anthology as an individual codex because it is cohesive and works well as a collection with the choices Beagle has made.

I recommend this anthology to anyone who loves fantasy and wants to try some of the new emerging voices. I have no doubt that each one of these writers will continue to write and publish larger works in the future, and this anthology is a great introduction to them. I would especially recommend this to readers who are new to fantasy and want to sample shorter works without committing to an entire series and/or trilogy.

Many thanks to Tachyon Publications for sending me an ARC for review. This anthology is currently scheduled to be published on  August 18, 2017 (though books are always subject to having dates pushed back). Regardless of publication date, it is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith | Book Review

covShaun Hume is a young emerging author with a unique voice. He is Australian-born and has self-published three works, Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith, The Girl in the Blue Shoes, and Tightrope Walker. All three works involve elements of speculative fiction, however, Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is the only work that is written for a younger audience—perhaps 10 to 12 years old. Hume shares his writing experience and process in his literary blog which can be found here. One particular line that got my attention in his blog made me want to read Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith (2013):

“Writing can be an emotive and immersive experience sometimes. And when the scene is set right, there’s no greater thing to do than be lost in the world of one’s creations”

Ewan Pendle is a strange boy. He is an orphan who has been through numerous foster families—so much so the parents might as well be named John and Jane Doe—which funny enough they are. What sets Pendle apart is that he has vivid visions and can see monsters. Because he sees such creatures, he is labelled many things under the umbrella of ‘weird’ and must suffer the consequences by being bullied, and thrown around various families. The confusion of not knowing who he is, and his strangeness, is soon explained as he finds that he is part of an ancient peoples, the Lenitnes, who can see the truth. The monsters that regular people cannot see are actually there and the rest of the world is ignorant to their existence. He is then taken in a school called the Firedrake Lyceum where he learns the ways of the monstrous creatures he sees with other children just like him. Ewan is told in ‘orientation’:

“Firedrake Lyceum is a place where other Lenitnes children such as yourself go to learn to develop that gift, as well as how to put it to best use. The monsters you have been seeing are called Creatures. We as Lenitnes have been charged, for thousands of years, with the task of protecting other humans from these Creatures. And as the situation may arise, to protect the Creatures from some humans as well.”

Ewan befriends Mathilde and Enid and together they solve the ‘case’ of the White Wraith—threatening the royal family.

As mentioned above, this book is self-published, thus there will be instances of evident lack of editorial work. However, I found that it was very easy to read and the plot and characterization make up for that several times over. On Goodreads and Amazon, this work is labeled as “an antidote for Post-Potter Depression.” I myself missed out on the Potter fandom growing up, though I did thoroughly enjoy the series as an adult. I can see this label being both useful and problematic for an emerging author like Hume. In a way it’s a flattering comparison, and simultaneously it raises expectations where the reader approaches the work with a skeptical eye. I would urge readers who try Hume’s work to refrain from such expectations. As a person who has read both later in life I found the two works to be different in pleasant ways, and I think there is room for both works to exist. That said, the work contains magical creatures, and fantastical elements one may find in any other works post and pre-Potter like The Magicians, The Inheritance Cycle, or Wizard’s Hall. I was personally reminded of the children’s film ParaNorman. I would recommend this book to children around ages 10-12. Hume’s closing remarks give readers something to look forward to. He writes:

“If any of you fine and well-dressed people out there are keen to hear more of Ewan, Enid, Mathilde, and all the rest, then you may be pleased to know that the second volume of this monstrous tale (of which you have been witness to just the first part of ) is planned, and so are others”

April Wrap-Up

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This month has been very hectic. The first two weeks I was writing final essays, wrapping up my Masters degree. I did get some good reading in this month. I was pleasantly surprised by the poetry collections I got a hold of this month because they really nourished the soul. Overall it was a good reading month. Here’s what I read starting from the most recent:

The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy – Edited by John Brehm

32926209This collection is an amalgamation of poems from various authors who are a source of wisdom in both the East and the West. The collection brings together a spiritual community that remains connected in that they wrote of essential human truths universally experienced. The collection includes poets like Frost, Whitman, Shakespeare, Kerouac from the West as well as poets from the East like Han Shan, Wei Ying-Wu, and Li Po. I wrote a full review here.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss    

21535271Earlier in the month I finished the first book and while I am saving the second volume for later on in the year, I thought I would give the novella a chance: The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I read a few reviews and people seem to be very angry at this novella for its lack of plot and character depth. I too expected a history of Auri. I hoped we would find out what happened to her, how she ended up in the Underthing, maybe some secrets she knows from overhearing conversations. I had to connect some dots from the first book. First I remembered that Elodin told Kvothe that he had known Auri for many years around the University and that she herself had been a student studying Alchemy. Also Elodin with Auri are both mentally unstable characters so it’s subtly hinted that Auri may have also been affected by the Naming of things. Reading this novella is almost like a play or a very concentrated experience of what it’s like to be Auri. We don’t get a history, we don’t get much plot, or even much character development, but you get ‘a day in the life’ of Auri in case you wondered as a reader what she does all day.

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Illustration by Nate Taylor

In the novella she moves around the Underthing and has a lighted object or bio-luminescent creature that she has named Foxen. She observes objects and rooms. I think this concentrated experience is in a way appropriate for Auri because it still keeps her a mysterious figure but it captures the isolation and loneliness of the most hermetic character in the series. Her experience of life is certainly going to be different and perhaps less exciting than Kvothe’s—who experiences more things than anyone else in the entire first book.
This is my theory: she messed up something in Alchemy and out of that she got Foxen and became unstable, but Foxen keeps her alive somehow—which is why Elodin could have known her for years and she still looks young. Foxen is tied to her existence and daily habits/routine. That’s what I got out of this novella. I look forward to moving on to the second book The Wise Man’s Fear.
The novella is also accompanied by the beautiful illustrations of Nate Taylor.                     

The Hour Wasp by Jay Sheetsfront cover hour

I received an ARC for early review from April Gloaming Publishing. The Hour Wasp is a poetry collection written by Jay Sheets and illustrated by Robyn Leigh Lear. This is a debut collection for Sheets and I read this on a lovely Sunday afternoon in the Month of April. If you’d like to know more about this collection you can read my full review. The book will be published on May 28.

This is What a Librarian Looks Like by Kyle Cassidy

I received a copy of this book as an ARC from Hachette, Black Dog & Leventhal for early review. The book will be officially published on May 16. This book is a combination of library history, author interviews on what the library means to them, and over 200 photographs of individual librarians across America with a little excerpt on them. Interviews include Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, and George R. R. Martin, among others. The purpose of this book is to promote and celebrate libraries and the role of librarians in our society, particularly now when the funds of libraries are threatened by Trump’s proposed “skinny budget.”

Invisible Planets Translated by Ken Liu

ipThis is a short story anthology of contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in translation. I wrote an individual Review for this collection. Invisible Planets is a 2016 TOR publication. The thirteen short stories had been previously featured in short story publications like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, and Tor.com. The short stories are written by Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Ma Boyong, Hao Jingfang, Tang Fei, Cheng Jingbo, and Liu Cixin. All the stories are translated by Ken Liu. Each author’s stories are preceded by a brief biographical note on the author.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

25110931I then half-read, half-listened to (on Audible) Lois McMaster Bujold’s second book in the Vorkosigan Saga Shards of Honor because she suggested starting with Shards of Honor and follow it with Barrayar. I will say in advance that this is definitely what is called a hard sci-fi book. There is a lot of military speech and military tactics. The main character whose point of view we follow is Cordelia Naismith’s, she is the captain of a Betan Astronomical ship. I love the way Bujold characterised Cordelia because she is strong and has a backbone. The work begins with the Betan base camp being attacked and Cordelia remaining behind with only one other person from her camp and Captain Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar. A romance ensues between Cordelia and Vorkosigan but it’s very subtle in terms of ‘cheesiness,’ because as I mentioned this is a strong character and a hard sci-fi book. This may sound weird but Cordelia and

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Rourke and Sinclair, Atlantis

Vorkosigan reminded me of Commander Rourke and Helga Sinclair from Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The relationship is complicated, there is a mutiny, and a lot going on that I can’t explain without spoiling it. I am willing to give the rest of series a try but not in a row. It’s an easy and pleasant listen/read and very exciting so it doesn’t require too much effort but it’s not a series I can binge.

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

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This book is a retelling of Peter and Wendy only it reads more like a sequel or continuation. In this retelling Peter is trans and was born as Wendy. He returns to Neverland ten years after leaving and choosing to grow up as Wendy. I have written a full review on this book. There is a romance aspect between Peter and Hook, however most of this novel deals with issues of identity, losing and finding oneself, and fighting to reclaim one’s spaces.

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found by Martin W. Sandler

whydahThis is a book about the Pirate ship: Whydah. I received this book from Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review: Full Review. In short, the first half of the book Sandler begins by following our main Captain pirate: Samuel Bellamy and the ship he hijacks: The Whydah. He explains the Articles of Agreement (among pirates), fun facts about the origins of The Jolly Roger, details of torture methods on board, punishments, as well as the good parts of pirate atmosphere on the ship, and facing the wrath of the sea as well as critical weather conditions. The second half of the book focuses on the wreck of The Whydah and the importance of each artifact which was retrieved in 1984. The details of each artifact, its history, and importance are absolutely fascinating and throughout Sandler debunks many pirate myths.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfusscover_277

This book is written by Patrick Rothfuss and was published in March 2007 by DAW Books, Inc. That year he won the Quill Award.

The Name of the Wind is about Kvothe—a young, red-haired man who tells his life story to Chronicler (a scribe whose life he saves and who is ultimately writing the ‘true history’ of Kvothe) and Bast—a young man who is absolutely enchanted by his master Kvothe and is eagerly listening to his life story. There are few interruptions but overall, The Name of the Wind is a bildungsroman. We follow Kvothe from his childhood where he is raised by a guild of actors, follow him through several years on the Tarbean streets where he lives in absolute poverty, and eventually through his University education where he studies Sympathy (among other subjects). Finance and poverty drive Kvothe’s plot as he must always make another strategic move to earn a day’s living, or another semester’s tuition. By the end of this book you’ll feel like you understand their economic system and all about ‘jots’ and ‘talents.’ The characters he meets at University and in town are diverse and very interesting, though no character is as flushed out and dimensional as Kvothe himself. His main talent on top of his studies is being a skilled lute musician. What is particularly strange to me, is the “magic” system. It’s very difficult to explain because it exists, it’s ‘different,’ and somehow it’s not very present. At the university, students study Arcanist’s arts which include Sympathy, Sygaldry, Alchemy, and Naming and then there’s a sort of Fae-world kind of magic. Some professors study things that make them fall into madness like “learning the name of the wind.” The description of classes sound a lot like courses in our world (including tuition), and a little bit like alchemy. The use and presence of ‘magic’ is really subtle and sometimes I wonder if it’s even there. There are mysterious figures like Auri, the Chandrion, and the professor who is held up in what resembles the University’s ‘asylum.’ Things like ‘forbidden stories’ and the effects of ‘sympathy’ used outside of the University give off a ‘magic’ element, but when as the story is told I sometimes forget that this is a different realm at all. There is also a romance woven in, but it is not overpowering. This book is 722 pages, so being brief in describing what it’s about is complicated without giving too much away.

What I love most about this work is how it is told. The storytelling and world building makes me feel like I’m listening to one of Scheherazade’s stories. What really accomplishes that for me is the many ‘stories within stories.’ There is a man at a tavern telling stories, there are songs being sung resembling medieval songs and filled with mythology and …well…stories. There are tutors, actors, guilds, dealers, clans, a hierarchy of class systems, and languages. All these components added while discussing the growth of Kvothe as a character give the reader a full experience of this world. It’s all in the details, like on page 300 where Kvothe and Wilem discus Siaru idioms:

“it means ‘don’t let it make you crazy’ but it translated literally as: ‘don’t put a spoon in your eye over it.’”

My favourite of all though has to be THE ARCHIVES. Descriptions of books in this novel are phenomenal. The presence of codices, and archives are everywhere. The descriptions of books, the presence of them, the contents, the things they help characters achieve just make this book so perfect. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys fantasy, books, schools, and bildungsromans. Here are a few of my favourite lines:

“You’d be surprised at the sorts of things hidden away in children’s songs” (39)

“I hope they spent those last few hours well. I hope they didn’t waste them on mindless tasks: kindling the evening fire and cutting vegetables for dinner. I hope they sang together, as they so often did. I hope they retired to our wagon and spent time in each other’s arms. I hope they lay near each other afterward and spoke softly of small things. I hope they were together, busy with loving each other, until the end came.” (124)

“The door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door…there are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.” (135)

“[Skarpi] – I only know one story. But oftentimes small pieces seem to be stories themselves…it’s growing all around us…sometimes the story is growing in squalid backstreet bars” (202).

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Peter Darling | A Book Review

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When it comes to analyzing Peter and Wendy, Peter is often interpreted as Wendy; the two characters being one and the same. Peter is seen as a symbolic or metaphorical way of dealing with issues regarding adulthood and growing up.  Wendy herself is forced to by her father, and she approaches this dilemma by escaping mentally to a separate space where she can work out her issues. In the original play the actor playing Wendy’s father would also play Hook as a continuation of the ongoing confrontation. Although there can be much read through a Freudian lens, a practical explanation is that the two characters never meet and so it would be an efficient use of the actor, rather than hiring another one. However, I much prefer the former. Jen Campbell discusses this in more detail on her YouTube channel (certainly worth watching).

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Front cover designed by Natasha Snow

I am a huge Peter Pan fan, and as a result have watched almost every possible adaptation, and am working my way through reading retellings. Austin Chant’s Peter Darling is by far one of my favourite retellings. In his novel Chant shows how Peter and Wendy are one and the same. Peter Pan returns to Neverland as a grown man after he had chosen to grow up ten years prior, back in London, as Wendy. Chant captures the voices of the Lost Boys particularly well, (the dialogue is absolutely perfect) and most importantly he captures the spirit of Neverland. I have read some retellings that lost the essence of those characters while trying to achieve a different goal through plot, but Chant kept them all in tact as if Barrie is just continuing on. I loved how well-preserved they are through dialogue and interactions.

Chant writes the character as Peter as a trans individual who had been born Wendy. This new added dimension told through the metaphor that exists in Peter Pan is one of the best ways to create a means by which anyone can begin to listen, and understand the trans narrative. Chant adds a layer of depth to these characters that deals with identity, losing and finding oneself, and struggle for power and asserting oneself in places that were theirs to begin with (in Peter’s case: Neverland). Here are some examples of dialogue that stuck with me:

[Ernest:] I knew…I was different somehow…I had to get away from my family. They kept saying there was something wrong with me. In Neverland, nobody cares about that. You can be free.”

“I know what you mean,” Peter said without thinking (page 30)

“It hit him again that his skin didn’t belong to him, that he was a puppeteer moving a stranger’s body. That was playing a character, while the real, lonely, frightened Peter was buried inside him…. I’m here to fight. I’m a boy.” (page 47)

This Peter Pan however, is very pro-fighting and pro-war. He arrives in Neverland driven to take his place back as leader almost immediately, and wants to fight the pirates even though there has been a ten year peace treaty on the island. He sees pirates as one dimensional and is constantly in the mood for a fight. My interpretation is that this is a result of years spent among regular people and growing up back in London. Before Pan was a playful fighter whereas now he just wants to fight with an anger-driven passion.

There is a romantic/sexual dynamic between Hook and Pan which others find distracting, based on some reviews I browsed, however, I thought it worked really well with this retelling. I didn’t know I’d love that but I did. I always thought there was a strange sort of tension or sexual energy between Hook and Wendy (even more apparent in film adaptations like Hogan’s), and if Wendy is Peter, then it makes perfect sense.

The author, Austin Chant, identifies himself as “a bitter millennial, decent chef, and a queer, trans writer of romance and speculative fiction.” He co-hosts the Hopeless Romantic, a podcast dedicated to LGBTQIA love stories, and the art of writing romance. I look forward to his next books, and I recommend this one to anyone who enjoys retellings, Peter Pan, or just wants to look at Pan from a different angle.