the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘mythology

Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein

publishes on Sept 17th 2019

where I got it: Received ARC, Thanks Tachyon!

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So, this book is going to get a lot, and I mean a LOT of hype in the next few months. Hype makes me nervous. It makes me worried that some slick salesperson is trying to separate me from my money. Here’s everything you need to know about Ivory Apples, and hype:

  1. the hype is well deserved. This book was everything I want storytelling to be
  2. Ignore the hype, go get the book
  3. My literature hot take is that Neil Gaiman hasn’t written anything half as good as Ivory Apples.

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This book is mythology given new life, it’s folklore happening in your backyard. Remember a few weekends ago, when I disappeared off the face of the earth, when I wasn’t online, when I wasn’t answering texts, tweets, or e-mails? It’s because I was immersed in this book and I didn’t want to come up for air until I’d finished it. To be honest, I wanted to stay immersed, I didn’t want to come up for air, ever. On page one I fell in love with the narrative voice, by page three I decided I wanted to be Maeve when I grew up, and by that afternoon I was halfway through the book.
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I’m gonna talk to you about mythology and folklore and storytelling and art for a minute, ok? We use mythology and folklore to explain things that we have no explanation for. Our favorite stories are the ones that give us hope that one day we too, can steal fire from the gods. That one day we too, might do something legendary, might go on our own hero’s journey. Storytelling is powerful, it enables us to do things we didn’t think possible. And the storytellers and the artists! They create magic out of thin air, and somehow make it look easy! Imagine if you could have just a piece of their gift. What wouldn’t you give to be as talented as your favorite writer, your favorite poet, your favorite musician, or your favorite artist?
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Anyway, Ivory Apples opens in the late 90s. The eldest of four sisters, Ivy is eleven years old when the story starts. All four girls are old enough to understand that they must always call their great-aunt by her not-real name, Maeve. They must never tell anyone her real name, what her phone number is, or where she lives. Their reclusive great-aunt Maeve is really Adela Madden, the author of the runaway hit novel Ivory Apples. She wrote the novel decades ago, and never wrote anything else. Maeve could care less about the royalty checks, she’s not interested in fan-mail or conventions held in her name, she’s not interested in talking about the book that made her famous. She’s mostly interested in staying hidden from the world, and lets a relative deal with the fan-mail and the banking.
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Ivy was such a wonderful character to follow! When we meet her she’s a care-free preteen, who bickers with her sisters and often forgets what adults have asked her to do. She’s too young to understand what she’s stumbled on, but knows she can’t tell anyone but Maeve, because no one else could possible understand. I won’t go into details, but I loved watching her learn about what was going on, and learn to live with what happens to her. Once you get to know her, maybe she’ll remind of someone in your life, maybe you’ll say to yourself “maybe what happened to Ivy happened to them”, and you’ll smile.

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The Grass-Cutting Sword, by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2006

where I got it: purchased used

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Before a girl circumnavigated fairyland, before John fell in love with Hagia,  before six super- heroines discussed their stories in the afterlife, and long before Space Opera, Catherynne Valente was taking the poetry and dreamyness of folklore and turning it inside out to show you the shiny bits you hadn’t known were there.

 

Valente’s novella, The Grass-Cutting Sword, was published in 2006, and if you come across a copy in some used bookstore somewhere, BUY IT.  (or even better, find a copy of Myths of Origin, which includes even more of Valente’s early work!) Especially if you like folklore. Especially if you like beautiful / weird / strange writing. If you enjoy C.S.E Cooney or Benjanun Sriduangkaew, you’ll love this.

 

In the story notes in Myths of Origin, Valente describes The Grass-Cutting Sword as “probably the most textually experimental and angriest” of her work. Yes, it is very experimental! But none of the characters seem overly angry. Driven? Absolutely. Tragic? That too.  Oh, and  as with all good fairy tales, there is a dragon and there is a sword.

The Grass-Cutting Sword is a retelling of the Japanese folktale of how the storm god Susanoo was banished from heaven by his sister Ama-Terasu. Instead of viewing it as a banishment, he takes the opportunity to seek his mother in her underground realm.  Recognized as a god by a worshipful man and woman, he undertakes the quest to save their recently abducted youngest daughter from an eight-headed serpent which has eaten the other seven daughters.

 

If he succeeds in the quest he has undertaken, the parents have promised him he can marry their youngest daughter as soon as he rescues her. Her parents say she is the most beautiful girl in the world, fit for an Emperor! And Susanoo wouldn’t be so insulting as to disagree, now would he?

 

The narrative flips back and forth between Susanoo’s point of view, and the serpent’s point of view.  Susanoo doesn’t mind hunting down the serpent, he’s not quite sure what else (other than look for the entrance to his mother’s realm) he’s supposed to do on Earth anyways.

 

 

As he travels the countryside looking for signs of the serpent, he tells the reader the story of creation – how his parents lived on an island surrounded by jellyfish, how his mother created the islands of Japan, how her fiery child was the last she would give birth to. Susanoo tells of his own creation, and that of his sister Ama-Terasu and his brother Tsuki-Yomi.

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Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee

Published in January of 2019

where I got it:  purchased new

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About half way through Raven Stratagem, I realized I wanted to read everything Yoon Ha Lee had written. The Machineries of Empire series only has three books, and I needed more of this kind of writing, of this style of story weaving. So, I ordered myself a copy of Conservation of Shadows, and bought a copy of Lee’s middle grade book Dragon Pearl.

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Dragon Pearl was very cute, and it is definitely book aimed towards the 8 to 10 years old crowd. My niece justs turned six, I can’t wait for her to be old enough to read this. I hope this is the book that has her asking her parents a million questions about how the world works, why adults do the things they do, if she can be a fox spirit when she grows up, and how terra-forming works.
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When Min’s older brother Jun joined the Space Forces, his family hoped he’d return home to a better world. When Min’s mother receives word that Jun abandoned his post to seek the Dragon Pearl, the family is shocked. Min knows her brother would never do something like this. She knows what he was looking for, out there in the deepness of space, and she knows why it would tempt him so much. But his letters home make no sense, she knows something is very wrong! Knowing that she can’t let anyone outside her immediate family know that she is a fox spirit who can shapeshift, she leaves home (a little Binti like, actually!), in search of her brother’s ship and his last known where abouts.

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Dragon Pearl is very fast paced, and in short order Min loses her possessions, is embarrassed to learn exactly why her family doesn’t want their children ever using their fox-spirit magic such as shapeshifting and Charm in public, escapes the gravity well of her impoverished planet, gains a ghost, and ends up having to shape shift to imitate a dead boy who was posted on the same ship as her brother. Speaking of not using her Charm magic in public, I got an absolute kick out of the scenes in the casino.

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What started out as “find out what happened to my brother” has now turned into avoid the scary tiger captain, keep a ghost happy, quickly learn how to be a fifteen year old male cadet, somehow gain access to the planet of the dead (literally. It’s covered in ghosts and when you go there they kill you) and most importantly, don’t get stuck in this physical form forever! Some members of her brother’s ship were on a secret mission to find the Dragon Pearl, and if Min can understand what happened, her dusty, unfinished planet could become a paradise. It sounds very convoluted, doesn’t it? Luckily, Lee is a fantastic writer, so while it is fast paced, it isn’t convoluted at all.
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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

published January 2017

where i got it: borrowed from a friend

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I’d thought this book came out way more than two years go?  I got quite the surprise when I flipped to the copyright page and saw that Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology came out in 2017.  When the book came out, I remember seeing tons and tons of hype, gorgeous cover art, and being so buried in Marvel Thor movies that the last thing i wanted was more Thor fiction.

 

When my friend lent me his copy of Norse Mythology, I ran my hands over the embossed cover, tried (and failed) to find constellations in the scattering of stars, and thought to myself “yeah, I’m finally ready for some Thor fiction”.  Thing is, and and I’m so pleased to say it, this is not “Thor fiction”. This book is literally what is says on the tin – this is not reimagining of Norse myths, or retellings, or modern takes on them.  Gaiman studied the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, read the commentaries, and dug into the dusty, cobwebby corners.  He sought to understand where these stories may have come from, how they may have evolved over the centuries, he mourned what has been lost because it was slowly forgotten through the oral tradition and never written down. This volume is a selection of Norse myths, told in Gaiman’s signature style of deceptively simple prose that pulls you in, and just keeps pulling.  His introduction alone is a brilliant piece of writing.

 

If you have ever read Edith Hamilton’s famous Mythology (ok, so it isn’t Norse), and wished for something a little easier on the eyes, something that didn’t assume you had already studied for years, something that was a joy to read, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is for you.

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Told as short stories, Gaiman starts you with the birth of the Gods and Goddesses, and takes you all the way to Ragnarok. The stories happen chronologically, so once Thor is gifted with his hammer, he has it in future stories. Once Frey gives up his sword in payment, he never has it again. Once Balder is dead, he’s dead.    Once it becomes known that Loki has other children that Odin didn’t previously know about, those children become part of the mythology for the rest of time. Once Loki loses the trust of his fellow immortals for the last time, there is no escape for him. And Thor is . . . nowhere near as smart as certain movies would have you believe.

 

This was the perfect bedtime book.  None of the entries are very long, they functioned perfectly as something to read to calm my brain down. Keep in mind tho, that due to the stories being in general chronological order, it’s best if you read them in order.  Treat this book like a mosaic novel made up of various smaller, interlinked stories (wait a minute, is this a fix up novel? lol!).

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Welcome to a new-ish feature here at Little Red Reviewer, called Five for Friday. The concept is simple – it’s a Friday, and I post a photo of 5 books, and then we chat about them in the comments.

The only things these books have in common are:
– they were on my bookshelf
– I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

have you read any of these? if yes, did you like them? If you’ve not read them, does the cover make you interested in learning more about the book?

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – I have got to be only person left on earth who hasn’t read this book!  My friend lent it to me, and I just finished a manga (Silver Spoon #5!), so the timing is perfect for me to finally read this.

 

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord – Hard to believe it’s been five years since this came out.  This is a quiet book that sneaks up on you, I reviewed it here.  Did you like Station Eleven?  You’ll like The Best of All Possible Worlds.  Totally different plots, but they have a similar, hmm… tone is maybe the right word?

 

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – I love everything this woman writes. Gorgeous prose, atmospheric writing, vibrant characters, and did I mention the gorgeous prose?  And can I say no to a retelling of The Snow Queen? no, I can not. Also, have you seen that beautiful cover art?  review is here, if you’re interested.

 

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart – Chinese fantasy adventure! This debut  novel won the World Fantasy Award and has become a classic. review here. Have you read the sequels?  are they good?

 

The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars by Steven Brust – Gosh, I haven’t read this in ages.  I remember a painter and a bunch of artists who share a studio, I remember  fairy tale that is told in tiny bits and pieces. I remember the first time I read this, I thought the painter was telling the fairy tale to his artist friends. Yep, I should really reread this.

 

I totally did not plan it this way, but a bunch of these books involve mythology and fairy tales!

 

Have you read any of these?  what did you think of them?

Which of these look interesting to you?

What are some of your favorite fairy tale / mythology retellings?

The Weight of Words, edited by Dave McKean and William Schafer

published in 2017

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher

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While whining about the books I’ve read recently and not reviewed (dear Andrea: is it OK to read something and not review it right away!), I got thinking about a book I’ve been reading and re-reading, and touching and oohing and aahing over the artwork of.  I’ve had this book in my possession for over a year, and it’s become less traditional anthology and more touchstone. The themes of the stories are all over the place – sad, creepy, hopeful, full of release, full of tension, seeking closure. The only thing these stories have in common is the artwork. If you’ve got a friend who loves the intersection of art and storytelling, this would make a great gift.

 

The Weight of Words, edited by Dave McKean and William Shafer came out around this time last year, but it’s a book I needed months and months to think about.  Dave McKean’s multi layered artwork draws you in, and then like a fractal, keeps drawing you in. This surreal artwork is the perfect match for speculative fiction stories that speak of places that never were.    These images tell a thousand stories, I almost feel bad for the authors who had to decide on just one plot line and write a short story!

Something incredible happens when artwork and storytelling intersect, something that feels like a chemical reaction.   The Weight of Words includes fiction by Joe Hill, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Catherynne Valente, Maria Dahvana Headley, Joe R. Lansdale, Alastair Reynolds, and more.

 

Here are my thoughts on some of my favorite stories in the collection:

 

Belladonna Nights by Alastair Reynolds –  McKean’s artwork prompt is a strange image of a clocktower, and violins growing out of the tops of the tower.  Reynolds took this fantastically surreal image and wrote a far future space opera about a reunion. Campion can continue to protect Shaula, or he can tell her the truth about her past.  If he tells her the truth, nothing will ever be the same again, and keeping up the lie is killing him. Just so you know, this story made me cry. I learned after I read the story that this story takes place in Reynold’s “House of Suns” world.

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The Inconvenient God, by Francesca Forrest

Available Oct 10th, 2018

where I got it: received review copy (thanks!!)

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A number of years ago, I adored Francesca Forrest’s novel Pen Pal.  If you’ve never read an epistolary story, or think you don’t like epistolary stories, Pen Pal will prove to you that writing letters back and forth is THE BEST way to tell a story (ok, ok, that’s my opinion). So when I heard that she had a new novelette coming out, you KNEW I was going to do whatever it took to get my hands on a copy!

 

The Inconvenient God is approximately 10% what it says on the tin.  The back cover copy states that it is about an official from the Ministry of Divinity who is assigned the job of decommissioning a waning god.  She gets to the job site only to learn that something fishy is going on. That all happens in what feels like the first five pages of the book.

 

And that’s when the really good stuff starts!  None of which is mentioned on the back cover. So when you buy the book, ignore the back cover copy!  It tells you nothing about this amazing world, nothing about this culture that being forced to move into a future it isn’t quite ready for, nothing about how history is written by the winners or how easy it is for entire stories and histories to be lost.  To be honest, when I read the back cover copy, I thought this was going to be about an old sky beard who was a professor at a college, and the guy refused to retire even though he had dementia. Yeah, that is not at all what this story is about!!

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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.