the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fairy tales

The Emerald Circus, by Jane Yolen

Available Nov 17th 2017

Where I got it: Received advanced reading copy from the publisher (Thanks Tachyon!)








Are kids still reading fairy tales and older stories? I wonder.  What need do the ten year olds of today have for Alice in Wonderland when they can play video games instead?  What use is a Hans Christian Andersen story book when you can watch a Disney movie instead?  I think a lot of younger readers who get their hands on Jane Yolen’s The Emerald Circus  will find themselves yearning to learn more about Hans Christian Andersen, Emily Dickinson, The Once and Future King, Charles Perrault, J.M. Barrie, Edgar Allan Poe, and more. My favorite kind of fiction is the kind that makes me want to read non-fiction.


The Emerald Circus showcases Yolen’s  range of talents in re-imagining classic stories and fairy tales,  and how being exposed to classics such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Arthurian legends, and the works of Hans Christian Andersen, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allen Poe shaped the lifelong joy she finds in storytelling through prose and poetry.  If you are a fan of poetry, the story notes and poems section at the end will be your favorite area, as the vast majority of the poems showcased are new to this volume.  Long time fans of Yolen’s work will see many familiar friends in the Table of Contents, as a number of these stories were previously published in other anthologies over the years.   The gem of the table of contents most certainly is “Sister Emily’s Lightship”,  which means a whole new generation of readers will get to enjoy this famous award winning short story.


The collection opens and closes with the very strong Hans Christian Andersen origin story “Andersen’s Witch”, and the Nebula award winning short story “Sister Emily’s Lightship”.  “Andersen’s Witch” is an excellent set up for the rest of the collection, as the story takes place when Hans is but a child – poverty stricken, lonely, and unsure of his future.  He makes a deal that affects the rest of his life,  and he doesn’t realize the price of that deal until he lies on his deathbed.   I loved how ambiguous this story is – did these things really happen? Did Hans imagine them? Does it matter?  This beautifully told story gave me wonderful flashbacks of being a kid and reading The Snow Queen out of a massive (or it seemed massive at the time!) Andersen fairy tales book I had as a kid. The illustrations in that book got my attention, and the stories kept me coming back to it.


“Sister Emily’s Lightship” is the big draw for this collection, and although it appears last in the table of contents I’m sure most people will read it first.  Described by Yolen as “Emily Dickinson meets a Martian”, the story is told in a very different style than the other entries in this collection. Could an interaction with an alien have triggered Emily’s withdrawal from society?  What need would she have of salons and social calling, when she’s seen what the Earth looks like from space? How could local society possibly compete with her inner life that is so full of fireworks and supernovae?   These two stories make excellent bookends, as they have an odd mirroring of each other – the main character’s experience with something alien helps them to create unparalleled works of literature, but at the same time pushes them both towards a life of perceived  loneliness and reclusiveness.


And in between those two short stories any reader will find plenty more to enjoy:

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the-starlit-woodThe Starlit Wood, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien

published Oct 18, 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Saga!)







I grew up with the standard mix of fairy tales that most American kids in the 80s were probably familiar with – Jack in the Beanstalk, The Pied Piper, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, The Red Shoes, Hansel and Gretel,  and more. They were a part of my childhood, in everything from Disney movies to bedtime stories. Most of these stories were cautionary tales: be a good/obedient/quiet  child, otherwise something bad will happen to you. In a handful of the stories the child was good and obedient, but their parent wasn’t, so the child paid the price. Moral of the story? Being a child is garbage, you better grow up as fast as possible.

Playing with fairy tales is fun, it always has been. Turning them on their side, fracturing them, giving them a modern take, taking them apart and putting them back together again. I’m not sure who has more fun in this situation – the author retelling a fairy tale, or the reader who gets to enjoy the finished product. The original stories were always so sparse, so light on the details. What happened before the story started? What happened after it ended? Did the person really deserve what they got? Maybe the witch had a really crappy childhood, maybe the little girl really hated her grandma, maybe “magic beans” means something different, maybe Rumplestiltskin was just really socially awkward. And don’t even get me started on the Pied Piper of Hamlin (Thanks Cooney!).

The Starlit Wood, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien joins a fine literary tradition of inviting authors to give an old story a new twist. While I was reading this book, my husband asked me if it was like one of it’s famous predecessors, Snow White, Blood Red, edited by Datlow and Windling, and I said this new one was a far more modern take. Granted, it’s been years since I read Snow White, Blood Red, but I don’t remember quite as much recreational drug use, post-human characters, 3-d printing, or humor. Yes, some of the stories in The Starlit Wood are laugh out loud funny, but others are just as horrifying, disturbing, and cautionary as the original tales. The sheer variety of types of stories and styles of storytelling in The Starlit Wood sets this anthology apart from others in the same vein. It’s as if the editors told their authors “I trust you. Now go do your crazy magic”. And the authors did their magic, and suddenly witches became caretakers and advocates, giants became not-so-godly post-humans, parents forced their losses on to others, children told themselves stories to escape their own awful childhoods, stories intertwined and diverged and then and found each other again, fortunes were made, and some people even got a happy ending. If the original tales were cautionary, these new ones are about throwing caution to the wind.

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img-jane-yolen-author-photo_175350610876I’m sure you grew up reading Jane Yolen. I know I did. Maybe your mother read you her children’s rhyming books when you were a child. Maybe you read those books to your children. Even if you don’t know her name, you know her work. From young children rhyming books such as An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball to books for young readers, to books for older readers. When I was a preteen, I read a book whose scenes still haunt me, more than twenty years later. That book? By Jane Yolen.

A novelist, poet, fantasist, journalist, songwriter, storyteller, folklorist, and children’s book author, Jane Yolen has written more than three hundred books. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Born and raised in New York City, the mother of three and the grandmother of six, Yolen lives in Massachusetts and St. Andrews, Scotland.

Many of her titles have recently become available as e-books through Open Road media. Mrs. Yolen was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her books, how publishing has changed, and if she’s got a particular pet. Read on for the answers!

Little Red Reviewer: Although many readers (including you and I) are still quite fond of physical books, e-books are making quite the inroads. I find e-books convenient for books that have been out of print for a long time and are have now become available as e-books. What do you think might be the next leap in “book technology”?


Jane Yolen: Possibly a return to physical books (which I prefer) with parts that move, imbedded movie bits, music chips. Or possibly surround-books with movie screens in the middle of which the reader sits to be immersed in the sound and movement of the book. I don’t expect to see these myself at my age.



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bone swans cooneyBone Swans, stories by C.S.E. Cooney

published July 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Mythic Delirium Books!)



Gene Wolfe wrote the introduction to Bone Swans, and describes her writing style simply as “pure Cooney”. He then offers a challenge to any reader of this collection: to define “pure Cooney”.


The tl;dr version of this review is my answer to Mr. Wolfe’s challenge:


Claire Cooney’s writing style is lyrical, playful, poetic, and gleeful. It reflects the pure joy she gets from the act of storytelling. You know that look on a child’s face when they’re telling you a new joke they’ve learned? they get this “boy are you gonna love this!” look on their face? You almost don’t want to hear the end of the joke, because you want that child to be that happy forever. that look on their face? That moment is what Cooney writes. You don’t want the story to end, because you don’t want that feeling of gleefulness to end. To sweeten the deal, she writes prose that begs to be read outloud, offers up word plays and alliterations, and her metaphors shamelessly flirt with the literal.  This is prose that would tap out it’s own rhythm if given a set of drums or a page of staff paper. The greatest trick Cooney ever played is convincing the world that storytelling like this is easy.


However, these are not gleeful or happy stories. Yes, they are poetic, playful, and witty and darkly humorous, but they are not happy. These are stories of revenge, human sacrifice, a side of fairy tales even darker than Grimm’s,  and the damn fucking creepiest version of an afterlife (if that’s even what it was) that I have ever seen. Cooney seems to return over and over to a theme of “you can’t escape what you are”.  How does someone who oozes joyfulness write this dark, disturbing violence?  Let me show you:

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As part of the Book of Apex Vol 4 blog tour, I feel very lucky to be able to interview Alethea Kontis.  An award winning author, she describes herself as among other things, a princess and a force of nature.  Alethea was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and give me more information on her short story “Blood From Stone”,  her current projects, adventures on YouTube, and how she stays sane.

Let’s get to the interview!

alethea kontis 1

LRR:  Your story, “Blood from Stone,” is a dark fantasy about a woman who seduces the man she loves and they succeed with their alchemical magic. What inspired this story?

A.K: “Blood from Stone” is based on the Grimm Brothers’ “Fitcher’s Bird” (some are more familiar with Perrault’s “Bluebeard”). “Fitcher’s Bird” is the tale of Fitcher’s last three wives, all sisters, the last of whom ultimately reveals his true nature (because she heeds the warning of a noisy bird) and leads the townspeople to murder him at his wedding. But what about Fitcher’s first wife? What kind of woman twisted this man into such a serial killer? Had he always been a sociopath? And if so, what sort of woman would have fallen in love with him in the first place?

Few have tried their hand at telling this part of Fitcher’s tale, and I am honored to be one of them. To prepare for this story, I researched the real-life historical figure that Perrault’s Bluebeard was based on: Gilles de Rais. Gilles de Rais was a baron who fought beside Joan of Arc, but he went on to squander his fortune until his family was forced to place him under something similar to house arrest.

His get-rich-quick schemes then turned to summoning demons, with the help of an Italian magician called Prelati, dark magicks that involved the sacrifice of countless children, whose bodies they subsequently burned in the fireplace (which is why no exact number is known). Once an author hears a history like that, how does she not write it?

I encourage readers who enjoyed “Blood from Stone” to explore further into the real life of Gilles de Rais.

LRR:  I found “Blood from Stone” to be dark and very adult. But you also write a lot of children’s and YA fiction. Is writing for different ages a different mindset? What’s the trick to being able to write kid’s stuff one day, and very adult fiction the next day?

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, by Catherynne Valente

Published May 2011

Where I got it: the library






What can I say, I love everything Catherynne Valente writes. Every story, every myth, every character, every metaphor she touches, they all turn to golden quicksilver – slippery words that swim towards each other to create something so very true and very magicial.  If you still haven’t read her – if Deathless looks a little too heavy or dark, if The Habitation of the Blessed looks a bit too intense, if you’re simply not quite sure about this strange woman that I refuse to stop talking about, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making is a perfect place to start.  Why? Because this is a young adult book. Although adults will joyously zip through it, smiling at the adventures found by a girl named September, and wiping away a tear when she finds what she’s looking for.  It’s part Alice in Wonderland, part Wizard of Oz, part hero’s quest story and part growing up story, part losing something and finding something, it’s all the pieces that grow up to become the person we’d all like to be.

Young September has the kind of childhood many of us will recognize – a boring one. She craves adventure and gets to wash dishes instead. She misses her father, and he’s a continent away, fighting a war she doesn’t understand. When the Green Wind appears at her window and asks if she’d like to accompany him to Fairyland, September doesn’t even think about it. She just goes.  Fairyland is as wonderful and as amazing as she’d always hoped. But it’s also frightening, confusing, and slightly feral.

Very lucky younger children will have parents who read this book to them, one delicious chapter at a time, at bedtime.  Those children will dream the most magnificent dreams, and their school teachers may bring up their strange school drawings at parent-teacher conferences. Even luckier children will read this book back to their parents, not understanding why their parents are laughing their heads off at the oddest moments. Those parents will dream the most magnificent dreams, waking wistful, yet satisfied in a rather kaleidoscopic way.

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Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente

Published in March 2011

Where I got it: purchased new

Why I read it: Adored Valente’s Habitation of the Blessed

I read many passages in this book twice, sometimes three times. Not because I didn’t understand them the first time, but because I wanted the beauty of the words to impress themselves upon me. So many parts of this book left me breathless.

What must it be like to fall into a story? To live in a fairy tale land and spend your days with mystical creatures?

This is a story has already been told countless times, and is in fact being told again right now, and the characters in the story knows how it ends, how it has always ended, how it must end. If you have fallen into a story as someone new, can you change the end to suit your needs, or will your needs change to suit the ending?

In her new novel, Deathless, Catherynne Valente has taken the Russian folk story of Koschei the Deathless (go ahead and wikipedia him, I did), and fashioned her own beginning and end of the story.  How came he to meet Marya Morevna and how came she to control him?  And most importantly, as Valente mentions in the acknowledgments at the end of the book, how did Koschei end up chained to the wall in Marya’s basement??

This is my second Valente novel, and she has a voice like no other author I’ve ever read.  Her prose caresses you, it loves you, it whispered the things you want to hear in the softest most seductive voice. And of course, because all things are mortal,  all stories must come to an end if only to be able to start again. thus, page by page, word by word, you can only get closer to the end.  Within the experience lies it’s own destruction. Read the rest of this entry »

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.