#Wyrd and Wonder Day 12: Desert Island Reads

I’ve always hated when people ask me about my one favorite book or which 10 reads I’d bring to a desert island. Why are you putting me thorugh the stress of even thinking about this?! I’m not making you choose your favorite child, am I?
Well, for Wyrd and Wonder, I’m embracing the anxiety and I know that, whatever I post here, I will immediately regret at least half of my choices and think of different, better ones. Let’s do it anyway. Because this is fun. Right?

You can find the rules here. The very basic summary is: Choose 8 books, 1 movie/TV show and 1 luxury item/whatever you want to bring to bring on a desert island with you. TV shows include all episodes, movies include all volumes if part of a fanchise. Book series count as individual books unless there’s a bindup version (Lord of the Rings would count as one book, for example).

IMAGE CREDIT: pegasus image by Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

MY DESERT ISLAND READS… I’m not taking any chances here. Nothing that I haven’t read, unless it’s by one of my favorite authors.

  • The Tiffany Aching Series by Terry Pratchett
    Yes, there actually is an omnibus edition of these five books and you can imagine how happy I was that I didn’t have to choose just one Discworld book for my desert island. Although I would have loved to take all the Witch books.
  • Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine
    I’ve been meaning to re-read this book forever. It’s rather short but Valentine creates a whole world within its pages. It’s got steampunk elements, complex character dynamics, secrets and mysteries, and it’s about a wandering circus in a strangely broken world.
  • Flora’s Dare by Ysabeau S. Wilce
    Choosing the middle book of a trilogy may seem weird but it’s my favorite. It has some really great twists, the characters have grown up a bit from the first book and I just adore Wilce’s world building and writing style. Her alternate California and clever protagonist Flora are just amazing.
  • The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales Angela Slatter
    I have read the first two story collections in this loosely connected series and they are both favorites of mine. This new one is probably just as amazing so I’m bringing it even though I haven’t read it yet.
  • Nation by Terry Pratchett
    Well, you can’t have too many Pratchett books and this one especially fits the island setting. It’s a non-Discworld book but it has made me laugh and cry and fall in love with its characters. Pratchett’s deep understanding of and compassion for humanity gets to truly shine here.
  • Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney
    For someone who doesn’t read many collections, I sure do love a lot of them. Cooney is a poet and it shows in her prose writing as well. Her tales are fantastical, bizarre, creepy, atmospheric, inspired by fairy tales but utterly original. I adore her!
  • The Fairyland Series 1-3 by Catherynne M. Valente
    Unfortunately, only the first three books exist in a collected format but I’ll take what I can get. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of Cat Valente, her writing, her ideas, and especially what she did in this series. Infinitely re-readable.
  • In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
    Yeah, it kills me that there’s no edition with both volumes of The Orphan’s Tales but, fine, I’ll take the first and that’s that. Unless I should take Deathless instead?! Have I mentioned that I hate this game?

TV, MOVIE OR PODCAST… This is just mean. I want to go with a TV show, simply because more episodes means more hours of entertainment. But leaving Willow off the island? Or The Neverending Story? I guess the smart choice would be Friends but that’s not fantasy and I’m not that smart anyway. Battlestar Galactica (2003) and Deep Space Nine also aren’t fantasy so I guess I’ll just have to choose my perennial favorite Labyrinth. I’ve loved this movie since I was a child and I’m still not tired of it.

I CAN’T DO WITHOUT… I wanted to bring my boyfriend but he is far from inanimate and the rules say to bring only things. Favorite foods will only last until they’re eaten, so I think I’ll pick something more useful. How about one of those Swiss Army knives that can do practically anything? I can open coconuts, cut some wood, gut all the fish I’m catching… Yeah, I’ll go with that. 🙂

#Mythothon 4 – Week Two

As I suspected, the announcement of the Hugo Award finalists made me completely overthrow my readathon TBR. 🙂 On the other hand, it also boosted my reading motivation and got me super excited for a lot of books!

How the week went

Thankfully, last week was much nicer than the beginning of the month. Work is still super stressful and in addition to the “normal” stress we’re starting new projects left and right, but I’m dealing with it better. I’ve been exercising regularly and sleeping better. A good night’s sleep really does work wonders!
I didn’t finish a lot of books (because daily exercise takes up time…) but I did get halfway through a chonker and a Lodestar finalist, so next week I’ll have more books to talk about.

My choice for the Nimue group read – set by the sea – was a total hit, although it didn’t start out that way. Full disclosure, the author Angela Slatter is one of my very favorites, so I trusted her to turn the rather slow start of this book into something more exciting after a while. And she did! This is a gothic, dark fairy tale, a family story interwoven with myths and legends, the tale of a young woman breaking free from the chains of tradition and making a life for herself.
The language is lyrical, the protagonist Miren’s strength grows with every chapter, and although it starts slowly, the plot picks up pace along the way and leads to a finale that had me biting my nails and worrying for the characters I’ve come to care for.
If you like fairy tales or mythology, a creepy atmosphere, and discovering dark family secrets, then this is for you.

My choice for the legendary romance prompt was very different. I didn’t have high expectations of this book but it delivered pretty much exactly what I thought it would. A book that’s super quick and fun to read but just not very good from a literary standpoint. Or a genre standpoint. It’s written inconsistently, the world building is haphazard and sloppy, the characters are shallow, there’s lots of telling instead of showing, and the plot is super predictable. BUT! I had a blast reading this because it’s one of those books that doesn’t require too much thinking. You don’t have to keep an entire history of this fantasy world in your mind, you don’t have to figure out difficult family relations between this royal or that. You just follow your Mary Sue, good-at-everything protagonist and the stereotypical sidekicks on their comfortingly predictable journey. This was by no means a good book, but I’d recommend it for when you’re trying to get out of a slump. There’s something comforting in books like this and I’m glad they exist.


Books finished in week 1:

Books finished in week 2:

Currently reading:

  • S. A. Chakraborty – The Kingdom of Copper
  • Aiden Thomas – Cemetery Boys

Plans for next week

I didn’t finish the Song of the Lioness yet but I hope to still manage that during this readathon. My excitement for the Hugo Awards has simply been too great and I wanted to get started on the finalists as soon as possible. The voting period will be extended this year and the winners won’t be announced until December, so I really shouldn’t stress myself. Starting now, I will mix up my reading. One Hugo finalists, one (older) book from my TBR. The most important thing is to keep it low pressure and have fun!

Here’s what I’m looking at for next week. Most of these are short and/or for a young audience so I think I can read them quickly. These are two Lodestar finalists and two backlist books. I’ll probably throw in an audiobook as well because I’m more than halfway through Kingdom of Copper and I can’t not listen to an audiobook. That’s just not an option. 🙂

Irish Gothic Meets Mythology: A. G. Slatter – All the Murmuring Bones

In case you haven’t heard me gush about Angela Slatter (writing here as A.G. Slatter), let me remind you of how the mosaic novels/short story collections Sourdough and The Bitterwood Bible blew my mind, tore out my heart, and made me want to just bathe in their beautiful language. Okay, now that’s out of the way, you know why I had to pick up Slatter’s newest book, set in the same world as the two mentioned above, with lots of Irish mythology and fairy tale vibes but which is also a gothic novel?! Does that work? Yeah, totally!

all the murmuring bonesALL THE MURMURING BONES
by A. G. Slatter

Published: Titan Books, 2021
eBook: 368 pages
audiobook: 10 hours 46 minutes
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

Opening line: See this house perched not so far from the granite cliffs of Hob’s Head?

Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the Mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.

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Sometimes it takes a little while to find your way into a story, to figure out what kind it is, how to feel about it. This was the case for me with All the Murmuring Bones. Its cover design and my knowledge of the author’s previous work led me to believe I would get some sort of a fairy tale, a whimsical story of a young girl breaking away from her family’s strict rules. And while that isn’t totally wrong, it’s also really not right.

We begin this story not with a person but with a place. The O’Malley’s home by the sea, the grand old house that young Miren is to inherit some day. With her grandfather Oísin just dead, her grandmother Aoife is her closest living relative and she is a strict, cold woman. But family nonetheless. Not that the O’Malleys don’t have quite a bit of extended family, but none of the many cousins however many times removed have the purity of blood to be considered rightful heirs of the mansion and all that comes with it. Because you see, the O’Malleys have been so successful because they struck a bargain with the Mer – merpeople of legend and myth – but some years ago, their luck ran out. Grandmother Aoife plans to return the family to prosperity at any cost. The first step is marrying Miren off to her cousin Aidan Fitzpatrick. Miren is not pleased and makes plans of her own…

The first part of this book wasn’t what I had imagined. Granted, I had missed that this is a gothic tale and with that bit of knowledge I would have been much better prepared, but even knowing that it was a dark, mysterious tale with empty rooms in vast mansions, family secrets that go back generations, and greedy scheming cousins, it takes this book a while to find its footing.
Once Miren is off on her way to find her own place and life to live, that’s when things started kicking off for me. That’s when I sunk into this book, enjoying every page, soaking up every mention of mythological beasties, making every connection between the fairy tales Miren reads and her own life. It was so much fun, despite (or maybe because of) all the murder and death and terrifying monsters…

I don’t spoil books here, so let’s keep things vague but still give you an idea of what to expect. Miren’s journey is marked by dangerous encounters but also unexpected friendships, but it doesn’t last forever. Eventually, she arrives at a place that is a whole new mystery and it was at that place that I felt the gothic elements of this novel got to shine. Sure, the O’Malley mansion may be creepy but since you know pretty much from the start what the O’Malley’s deal is, there’s nothing mysterious about it anymore. The thing that makes the second half of this book so delightfully creepy is the not knowing. What is really going on? Is it mythological creatures? Witch’s magic? Or just regular humans being awful to each other? What happened in the past? Did someone strike a deal with a devil? You see, it could be either or none of those, you just get this sense that someting is wrong and you have no idea who you can trust. As bad as that situation is for Miren, I revelled in it. It’s exactly the kind of creepy mystery that makes me cuddle up with a blanket and read for hours and hours.

But it’s not just the mixture of gothic elements with Irish mythology and fairy tales (some of which reference Angela Slatter’s other works, by the way, which made me squeal like a crazy person because that’s just brilliant), it’s also the first person protagonist Miren. At first, she doesn’t seem like there’s much to her. She’s obedient, knows her place in the strict and strange O’Malley family tree, she doesn’t talk back, she just nods and agrees. But inside, oh, inside is a different story. And over the course of this book, the way she has always felt inside comes out more and more. The way her life is controlled by others, how her voice isn’t heard. She breaks free of those restraints, sometimes violently, sometimes through kindness. It happened quite sneakily, but by the end of the book, I found I really cared about her!

If, like me, you find yourself struggling a bit at the beginning of this book, you’re unsure what atmosphere is supposed to be created or which character you should root for, don’t stop reading. You’d miss out on a fantastic novel that grows better and better with every chapter. It has twists and turns in store, it has plenty of good stuff for lovers of mythology or ghost stories, murder and mayhem, and of course very pretty writing. I’m happy Angela Slatter shows no signs of running out of ideas and I hope many people pick this book up. If you liked Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia, why not go for this Irish-inspired gothic story? And if the Irish names throw you, I can recommend the audiobook – that’s how I consumed this book – which is read masterfully by Aoife McMahon who knows how to say all the names.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

Angela Slatter – The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

Well, this is how long I could keep away from Angela Slatter’s stories. A bit more than a week, which I used to order a paperback copy of Of Sorrow and Such… now that I’ve read The Bitterwood Bible – which is a sort of prequel collection to Sourdough – I am even more in love with Slatter’s style and ideas. I really hope that her Tor.com novella will expand her readership and get more of her stories into my hands.

bitterwood bibleTHE BITTERWOOD BIBLE AND OTHER RECOUNTINGS
by Angela Slatter

Published by: Tartarus Press, 2014
Ebook: 280 pages
Short story collection
Illustrated by:
Kathleen Jennings
My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: The door is a rich red wood, heavily carved with improving scenes from the trials of Job.

Welcome back to the magic and pathos of Angela Slatter’s exquisitely imagined tales.
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings returns to the world of Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus, 2010), introducing readers to the tales that came before. Stories where coffin-makers work hard to keep the dead beneath; where a plague maiden steals away the children of an ungrateful village; where poison girls are schooled in the art of assassination; where pirates disappear from the seas; where families and the ties that bind them can both ruin and resurrect and where books carry forth fairy tales, forbidden knowledge and dangerous secrets.
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings is enhanced by eighty-six pen-and-ink illustrations by artist Kathleen Jennings.

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What is it about Angelas and fairy tales? In both forewords to Angela Slatter’s two collections, she is mentioned in one breath with that other famous Angela who did fairy tales her own way, Angela Carter. While I’d say Carter is a tad darker, I understand the comparison. But because of what this Angela (Slatter, that is) does – namely, connecting all of her short stories and using them to paint one large picture of a time and place – I must admit, I actually prefer her over Angela Carter.

bitterwood - badgersIn The Bitterwood Bible, we see what things were like before the events of Sourdough (reviewed here). Familiar names pop up, well-known settings are used, and one object that was almost a gimmick in Sourdough becomes quite important in these new stories. Since Slatter continues the trend of taking fairy tales and myth and folklore, and using them to build her own stories on top of them, I hardly need to say I loved this collection. But it was striking how much the author has developed, how much more crafty her tales are. What little critique I may have had for Sourdough can’t be repeated about Bitterwood. If there are twists to these new stories, such as in the first story “The coffin-maker’s daughter”, then these twists really hit home.

bitterwood - maiden in the iceI am absolutely in love with “The Maiden in the Ice” which, apart from being a wonderful story in and of itself, ties in nicely with the first story in Sourdough and made me immediately want to re-read it. I haven’t had the time yet but I believe that I will like that Sourdough story much more and see it in a very different light after reading “The Maiden in the Ice”.

Her perfume is earthly, rich and dark, like rotted roses; a sweetness at first, then a potency, then grown too strong, and finally the hint of decay as she moves past the folk in the streets, those in the markets.

If you didn’t think there could be a new and interesting way to update vampires, well, you are wrong! So wrong! Angela Slatter takes vampires and just… does strange and interesting things with them. Hers are neither only sexy and dark, nor purely tortured innocent-ish beings. They are a bit of everything and something different entirely. And they certainly don’t sparkle. I’d say the vampire craze is mostly over and lots of readers may even go out of their way to avoid vampire stories, but lend me a bit of your trust and just try this one. It’s really something else.

“St. Dymphna’s School” merges seamlessly from one type of tale – at least the type I expected it to be – into quite another. It follows a heroine both determined to do what she came for, (almost) no matter the cost, and yet compassionate and understanding that the people surrounding her shouldn’t be hurt just because they don’t help her achieve her goals. In this tale, another character makes a reappearance from Sourdough, or more accurately – an appearance after being mentioned in Sourdough.

bitterwood - st dymphnas kiss

I said above that Slatter isn’t quite as dark as Carter, but that doesn’t mean that these stories are for children or light-hearted. There is one story that  never explicitly mentions the terrible things that happen to its protagonist, but it will break your heart a hundred times over. Even stories with a quirkier, lighter tone manage to twist a knife in you at the end, leaving you filled with horror and shock.

“By the Weeping Gate” is the only story that’s a bit slow to start but it wouldn’t be in this collection if it didn’t deliver the same powerful punch at the end that Slatter’s other stories do. The last story in the collection presents almost a seamless sequel to “By the Weeping Gate” and not only ties these two stories together, but connects the entire book into one big whole beautiful thing.

If Sourdough was about the story of a place and the women living there over the course of several generations, then Bitterwood is about The Little Sisters of St. Florian, women who collect and preserve knowledge, who copy rare (and not so rare) books, some of them mundane, some dangerous, and what happens to their order. The recounting of their last days made me cry a little, as it combines powerful writing with a heart-wrenching story.

One last raving paragraph must go to illustrator Kathleen Jennings, whose work I knew from Catherynne Valente’s The Bread We Eat in Dreams. The style is immediately recognisable and her little drawings are full of detail (albeit a little small on an e-reader). She did excellent work, choosing what to depict – sometimes objects, sometimes animals, and sometimes the characters. I was always a bit giggly when I swiped to the next page and saw an illustration come up. Really wonderfully done!

The longer I read this book, the more superlative my exlamations about it became. From “Hey, I really like this” I went quickly to “This is amazeballs” straight on to “I fucking adore everything Angela Slatter writes!!!” – I gather from other people’s reviews that these are the natural stages of book love when reading Angela Slatter. I kept Of Sorrow and Such for last, because chronology, but you’ll probably be seeing a review of it in December, despite all my well-laid plans for reading exactly what’s on my challenge lists… sorry reading challenges.

Next year promises the publication of Slatter’s first novel Vigil. I don’t even know what it’s about. All I know is that I need it yesterday, and the sequel too!

MY RATING:  9,5/10 – Oh my God, so close to perfection!

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Second opinions
(because you know I’m not completely trustworthy when I adore a book this much – although it did win the World Fantasy Award. Just sayin’…)

 

TTT – Top 10 New-To-Me Favorite Authors I Read in 2015

2015 has been good to me, it really has. I’m not sure I can pick ten new favorite authors that I read this year but there were a few authors that gained my everlasting loyalty with their fiction and of course I want to share them with you. Thanks to Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish), here’s my chance:

Top Ten New-To-Me Favorite Authors of 2015

1. Angela Slatter

I’ve made no secret of the growing love I have for Slatter’s fiction. She writes beautifully, poetically, mixes fairy tales and folklore with her very own ideas and creates mosaic novels out of short stories that can be enjoyed many different ways. Whether you read her collections in publication order (Sourdough, then The Bitterwood Bible) or in chronological order (the reverse), whether you pick and choose single stories or read them as fix-up novels – her writing is gorgeous, her characters vibrant and multi-faceted. Discovering something new about a side-character from a previous story, finding out the history of a place you visited earlier… it’s like diving into a place and time and looking at it from a multitude of angles. There are witches, vampires, poisoners, chroniclers, women looking for revenge, women looking for love, women looking for peace. It’s wonderful!

2. Alaya Dawn Johnson

summer prince

I’ve only read The Summer Prince but I’ve been busy buying Johnson’s other books during the year. But The Summer Prince was so damn good and it came so out of nowhere for me that it has left a lasting impression. I still think about the futuristic Brazil the story is set in and I still catch myself reliving scenes from the book. This was such a powerful story with a gorgeous cover to boot. It’s one of my resolutions for next year to catch up with Johnson’s short fiction and her other novels. If they are anything like The Summer Prince, I’m in for a treat.

3. Laura Ruby

bone gap

Again, I’ve only read the one book by Laura Ruby but, my god, was it beautiful! In Bone Gap, I discovered layer upon layer of awesome. It’s part fairy tale retelling, part coming-of-age novel, and many other parts that would enter spoiler territory so I’ll shut up about them. The way this story deals with beauty and its implications was just stunning. You discover what it means to be beautiful – or ugly – from different angles, through different characters, and every single one of them is amazing. I don’t think Ruby’s backlist is my type of stuff but I’m eagerly awaiting anything new she publishes and will jump on it if it sounds even the tiniest bit up my alley.

4. Shirley Jackson

we have always lived in the castle

So Shirley Jackson. I finally picked up one of her books and it’s true what everyone says – WOW! I didn’t manage to read more of her books or short stories but there is no question I will next year. We Have Always Lived in the Castle was completely different from what I expected but it turned out to be so much better. Unreliable narrators, the question whether the characters’ memories are to be trusted, whether they are insane, whether there is something supernatural going on or things have a mundane explanation – that alone would have kept me intrigued. But Jackson also draws her characters so well that I just loved following their story simply because I cared about them. Yeah, I need me some more Shirley Jackson.

5. Paul Cornell

witches of lychford

This was unexpected. I had liked Paul Cornell a lot from the SF Squeecast and his presenting of the Hugo Awards. He seems like such a nice guy, yet I’d never read any of his writing. Then the Tor.com novellas came along and gave me the perfect starting point. Although I’m not a big fan of urban fantasy, Paul Cornell convinced me to give it a chance. His Witches of Lychford told a lovely tale about three very different women coming together to save their home town. I can’t wait for the sequel. Most warmly recommended.

6. Theodora Goss

This new favorite comes with a caveat. I adored the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting but I didn’t quite love the two-sided novel The Thorn and the Blossom. Goss’ strength lies in short stories, it seems, or maybe she’s just not as good with contemporary romance? Her language is beautiful and lyrical, and I won’t let one mediocre book keep me from reading more of this great author. Her Songs for Ophelia is on my TBR right now and on my must-read-in-2016 list.

7. Karin Lowachee

warchild1

Military science-fiction is something I haven’t explored very much (except for Heinlein’s Starship Troopers) but Karin Lowachee does something really awesome with it. Warchild is a character-centric story about a kidnapped and abused boy coming into his own, discovering who he is in an interstellar war between humans and the alien species that basically raised him. It’s not the fastest moving novel at first, but there are plenty of space battles if that’s what you’re in for. For me, Jos was the reason to keep me reading. I felt for him so deeply that even without a single battle scene, I would have adored this book.

8. V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene

Victoria Schwab has been on my radar for a while but it wasn’t until this stunning book with its stunning cover(s) came out that I pounced. Parallel London’s, magicians, a thief, a prince… the premise and world-building are enough to get any fantasy fan interested. But the plot is fast-paced, fun, quite dark at times, and the characters – although not as flawlessly drawn as I would like – will get you invested in no time. I pre-ordered the sequel right after I finished reading A Darker Shade of Magic, and there’s no question I’ll read it as soon as it arrives next year.

9. Kerascoët

Not an author but a graphic novel illustrator, Kerascoët nonetheless is a new favorite of mine. In Beautiful Darkness, it is precisely the art that makes the story what it is. Had anyone else drawn the pictures for this graphic novel, I doubt it would have been as effective. Credit must of course go to the writer, but the pictures are really what make this story great.
The second graphic novel illustrated by Kerascoët that I read, Beauty, I think would have worked also with a different illustrator. But I was deeply impressed with the shift between Beauty’s real looks (she’s supposed to be hideous) and the way people perceive her – which is utter beauty that nobody can resist.

10. Emily St. John Mandel

station eleven

Station Eleven blew me away. I didn’t think I’d like it because all blurbs I read made it sound super tropey and boring. But the clear language, the shifts in perspectives and time periods, the hopeful undertones of what is essentially a broken world, all made it into a surprisingly enjoyable post-apocalyptic story. Some chapters even squeezed a tear or two from my eyes, not because a character died or something terrible happened, just because you have to confront the implications of a world stripped of 99% of its population and all the comforts we take for granted. If something remains of art and beauty and hope – that’s the stuff that makes me cry…
Despite all of my love for Station Eleven, I don’t think I’m the audience for Mandel’s other books. But who knows, I may just try a shorter book of hers and see if I like it.

So there you go, I did discover 10 amazing new authors this year, even though some of them may remain one-book-ponies, simply because of my taste in fiction, not because of their skill as writers. I am pretty sure many of the books mentioned here will also make it onto my Top Ten Books of the Year list.