fairytales

Blog Tour: Fierce, Fearless And Free by Lari Don. Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon.

Blog Tour: Fierce, Fearless And Free by Lari Don. Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon.

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Meet Inanna who conquered a mountain. Bridget who rid her house of witches. Kandek who outsmarted a wearwolf. These heroines are fearless, bold, quick-thinking and smart, and their stories make for excellent reading. 

Folk stories have been important to me since I was small. It began with music. Songs I heard as my Dad worked through his collection of LPs, cassettes and CDs. Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention – the stories they sang weren’t always fully comprehensible to my young mind but I got the jist enough to know that they were a little more exciting than the limited cannon of fairytales that was read on a regular basis to children. Later, I found a collection of folk tales retold by Kevin Crossley Holland and my interest in folklore really took hold. How stories grow out of human experiences. How time and place shapes the retelling, until each culture has its own canon of best-known tales. 

This collection includes tales from different cultures. It reflects the fact that stories are told and retold all around the world. 

My favourites included The Lace Dragon, the story of a girl who outsmarts the Emperor demanding her hand in marriage by drawing on her magic as a lacemaker, and Goddess VS Mountain, which is the story of a girl up aganist the might of the land itself. The stories have such different themes and settings that the collection remains engaging. As an adult reader, it reminded me of the magic of being a child and begging for just one more story. 

The way these stories are written lends itself to speaking aloud. It is an art in itself to write with such clarity and yet in a way that draws the reader in and keeps them hooked. 

As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware that the notions we form about gender begin early and restrict our ideas about our identities. Countering stereotypes is important if we are to offer the next generation a wider range of ideas about who they might become. The fact that this collection shows girls being clever and active, angry and proactive and energetic will make it  popular with teachers, librarians and parents looking to counter narrow ideas about what it means to be a girl. 

It turns out happy ever after can come in all kinds of ways. These tales are well written, timeless and filled with strong female role models. 

 

Thanks to Faye Rogers PR and Bloomsbury Education for my copy of Fierce, Fearless And Free. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

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The Moon King is delighted when he finds out he is to become a father, and he vows to give his daughter the most beautiful present in all the world. He captures the Starbird, whose legendary voice fills the young Princess’s dreams with magic.

One day, the Princess notices that Starbird’s songs are filled with sadness and longing for the open skies. When the Moon King finds out that the Princess has set Starbird free, he vows to hunt high and low until the bird is recaptured.

The Princess begs and pleads with her father to see reason, for she knows that a living thing can belong to no other being.

A beautiful folktale presented with striking illustrations for a new generation.

Starbird – and variations on the story – is a story of hope for humankind. As equally as it makes us despair for the actions of people who have believed they can enslave and claim ownership of other lives, it brings hope. This story has been passed through the generations so clearly there have been voices speaking against such actions throughout time. It gets to the very core of the attitudes that have caused, among other things, the current Climate Crisis. To make a difference to the world we have to put aside the idea that ownership and profit are important.

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With plenty of great books coming out which have an overt message, is it lovely to see a folktale that happens to be relevant to our times. Readers will be introduced to this tale without expecting a message and so it will be their empathy for Starbird that leads them to think more broadly other issues. Otherwise, it is simply a beautiful tale to read over and over.

The illustration and design of this story is stunning and it stands out as a particularly special book because of it. Striking landscapes in pale colours alternate with patterned pages where animal shapes can be made out it the blank space between different designs. Silver foil detail is used to great effect throughout. There is a particular focus on skies – starry heavens, and swirling Arctic lights and pale sunsets over the mountains. This enhances our emotions around Starbird’s longing for freedom because the skies make a contrast with the metal bars of his cage.

It is always nice to mix Christmas stories with fairytales, folklore and classic stories. Starbird’s stunning illustrations and sparkling silver detail make it the perfect book to read over Winter and it is a story that offers a message hope and love for our times.

 

Thanks to Two Hoots (Macmillan Children’s UK) for my copy of Starbird. Opinions my own.

fairytales · Feminist/Gender Equality

Review: Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls (various authors and illustrators).

Review: Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls (various authors and illustrators).

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Fairy tales fire our imaginations and they shape our understanding and expectations for our lives. So says Kate Pankhurst in her introduction, which explains how some fairy tales were told less often than others, and so became lesser-known or forgotten. As stories die, Pankhurst says, so do their messages. And why should there only be one version of a tale, when braver, bolder characters can tell us the things which make sense in our lives? 

It is a fantastic foreword to a book that aims to change the narrative on female heroines. Why should the princesses sit around waiting to be rescued when they could ride out into the night and take on the darkness themselves? 

This image, incidentally, comes from my favourite fairy tale. In Tam Lin, included here as Fearless Fiona And The Spellbound Knight, the heroine rides out at midnight to confront an evil faerie queen and prevent a young man from being given as tribute to hell. I came to this story through folk music and something about it felt different from the same-old-same-old stories which I knew from repeated tellings. There was something about Tam Lin which, even in my teens, I was unable to explain. 

And of course, that image says it all. The heroine was brave. Not the wimpy, waiting around without complaint brave, but the kind where she took things into her own hands, faced her fears and remained resolute in her position. She had guts. She had authority as a character. 

Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls offers young readers this very thing. Girls need to see themselves at the centre of the action from an early age to believe that their strength and intelligence is equal to that of a boy.

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The stories are retold in a way that is suitable for younger readers. The writing is strong and rich in detail and the book could very definitely grow with the reader and remain a favourite. In fact, these would be lovely to read aloud as a group or to reenact together. Tales included are English, Scottish and European but vary from the best-known stories. This would be a lovely book to help readers think more broadly about fairy tales and folklore and to give them a hunger for more tales. 

The illustrations are bold and colourful and bring the stories to life. I especially love the towering, waving nettles in the illustrations of The Nettle Princess, and the picture of Tam Lin with his armour wrapped in flowers. 

It is always encouraging to see anthologies which aim to challenge outdated narratives. A lovely introduction to the diversity and richness which stories can offer. 

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing and Rontaler Events for my copy. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nordic Tales (various authors and translators). Illustrated by Ulla Thynell.

Review: Nordic Tales (various authors and translators). Illustrated by Ulla Thynell.

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Princesses and enchanters and giants. Dragons and polar bears and hags. Enter a world of icy magic with this beautiful anthology of traditional Nordic Tales. 

This collection contains 17 stories, each with a full-page illustration by Ulla Thynell. Her artwork is so beautiful and atmospheric that just looking at them brings an imaginary breeze into the room. They conjure up a world carpeted in white snow, where anything and everything could be waiting beyond the window. Although there are no further illustrations or decorative borders within the text, the pictures are so rich and detailed that they set the scene and draw the reader into the story. 

Tales include East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, The Forest Bride and The Magician’s Pupil. They are categorised by events, so those which contain stories of transformation are together. The three categories are Transformation, Wit and Journeys. This was interesting as a writer because it allowed me to see similarities between stories in each category.

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The stories come from different sources and were rewritten by various translators. A section at the back explains their origin, and credits all involved. 

I was interested in this title because of my love of folklore. I grew up on my Dad’s collection of folk-rock, which led me, in turn, to seek out folk stories as a teenager. The books I found were primarily British or Celtic, although I also read some Greek mythology. It was later that I started to look wider, and discovered stories from so many other places. 

Anthologies like this are magical. The beautiful pictures make the dark nights seem bearable, and possibly even a bit special. Reading this every evening made me want to curl up in front of a log fire and sink deeper into the words. The perfect present for a winter celebration, or the perfect treat to ease yourself into the cold weather. 

 

Thanks to Chronicle Books for my copy of Nordic Tales. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

Review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

Switching Hour

Extract:

‘Until the rains arrive,’ Granny Uma said, ‘you must come home before the Switching Hour. No one is safe from Badeko the Dream Eater at night, no matter how fast you think you can run.’ 

(The Switching Hour by Damaris Young. P15.)

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Synopsis:

Everyone knows about Badeko. He creeps into house and steals away children to devour their dreams. When he has finished feasting on them, the memory of their existence disappears from their loved ones, who then suffer from terrible grief known as The Sorrow Sickness.

Amaya knows the rules. Every night she locks the door to protect herself and her little brother from the sorrow sickness. Then one day she loses her temper and in the aftermath, she forgets to lock the door.

Her small brother is taken, except Amaya determines to bring him back. With the help of her pet goat Tau and new friend Mally, Amaya sets out to find the Badeko’s nest.

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Review:

When a talented storyteller begins a tale, it creates a feeling in the reader. Something like a shiver, except they are so hooked that they sit still. This is the feeling I had whilst reading The Switching Hour. I knew from the first page that I was in the hands of a talented author.

The story also centres around climate issues, which have never been more relevant given the climate emergency which threatens life on our planet. Amaya lives in an extreme climate, and the terrible creature which steals children from their homes was awoken by drought. The community desperately awaits the rains which will send Badeko back to sleep. This is the first time I have seen a tale about a creature awoken by climate crisis, and yet it felt like something I knew inside my heart. As if the story is already playing out around us and the author told it in the very best way.

On a personal note, Amaya’s grief for her mother was told in a real and beautiful way. As a twenty-something who has just undergone the same loss, I related to much of what Amaya felt. That desperate fear that I will forget details about my mother, and that I am not doing as she would want in any given situation. Bereavement and loss is not only a thing that happened at some point in time. It shapes a person’s reactions and thoughts and emotions ever after. The Switching Hour shows this to perfection.

The story feels like a folk tale not only because of the forest and the fantastical creature but because it tells a story of our times and poses a question: do we want this to happen?

The Switching Hour is not only a strong concept, it is told with language so beautiful it gets under the skin. This is storytelling. This is what a good book looks like.  

A haunting and memorable debut.

 

Thanks to Scholastic Children’s Books for my gifted copy of The Switching Hour. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

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Extract:

Between the twine and hair are fingernail cuttings. 

This must be one of Laila’s spells. 

Even though I don’t believe in magic, it’s difficult not to connect this horrible thing with the strange way she died. It feels like Laila doomed herself, accidentally cursed herself, and died. 

(The Wickerlight by Mary Watson. P63.) 

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Synopsis:

Living in Kilshamble was supposed to bring Zara’s family back together after her parents came close to divorce. Instead, with the death of her sister Laila, it tore them apart.

Zara isn’t buying that her sister’s death was an accident. Not when she was obsessed with all things magic. Not when there’s a strange conflict in the village between rival groups, a conflict which regularly escalates to violence.

Investigating Laila’s death brings Zara into contact with David, the troubled boy who isn’t beyond redemption. David’s family are searching for a lost family heirloom which holds far more than a sentimental value?

Is it possible Laila’s quest for magic took her out of her depth? As Zara searches for answers, she finds herself drawn dangerously close to the conflict between two rival magical groups: judges and augers.

A compelling mystery novel and companion to The Wren Hunt.

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Review:

Thriller meets folklore in the second book of this extraordinary series. Imagine a world where Earth magic still exists in hidden pockets. There are two different approaches, one which is elemental and practiced by Augers, another which relies on order and is practiced by Judges. The factions who practice these related magics are part of a centuries-long civil war which centres on the Irish village of Kilshamble. This much was established in book one. Starting off two months after the events of The Wren Hunt, this story changes the camera angle to see the village through the eyes of an incomer and non-magical inhabitant.

Unlike her late sister Laila, Zara’s never believed in magic. Following in her sister’s footsteps brings her into contact with the augers and judges and puts her own life in danger. It also brings her closer to David – the Judge boy who is supposed to kill and injure on his father’s orders.

Think Capulets and Montagues in a Celtic setting. It is brooding and teenage and at the same time, these teenagers have never had a chance to be children. They’ve been shaped for war since birth.

The question of which faction killed Laila and why relates to the events of The Wren Hunt. Snippets from Laila’s diary head every other chapter and lead to a climax in a way which kept me up into the small hours. It was wonderful to read a thriller which linked into a wider fantasy plot. This merging of genres opens new ways of telling stories and Kilshamble is a setting which is at once filled with magic and grounded in the everyday.

Alongside the story of Judges and Augers is the story of Zara’s family. Her father has been caught having affairs, and Zara desperately wants her family to stay together. They’ve already undergone one huge change, moving to Kilshamble, and she’s afraid that if her parents divorce she will have to South Africa with her mother. Despite everything which has happened, Zara wants to remain in Kilshamble. The magic her sister loved is rich here and this is where Zara feels close to Laila. This is a story of grief, change and moving into new stages of life. Both Zara and David know what they want already, but owning it is another question.

Having read The Wickerlight, I am desperate to return to The Wren Hunt and to remind myself of some of the contexts of the magical dispute. Everything which takes place in these books feels as though it is grounded in something deeper, something centuries-old, as if a seed planted many years ago has grown into twisting thorns. I look forward to continuing the story when the next book comes.

A story of a feud and the young people who grow as a result of the battles. It is a haunting tale which will remain on your mind long after you close the pages.

 

Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for my gifted copy of The Wickerlight. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Review: Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

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Extract:

Frustration cut a bitter path across Taro’s chest. His lips tugged into a sneer. ‘So you hope to be an Empress? You wish for the prince to fall in love with you, and to wear pretty gowns, and to live in luxury for the rest of your life?’

Mari sighed. ‘It is disappointing how little you think of the opposite sex.’ 

Taro grunted. ‘I know the prince. He does not like to be considered some prize to be won.’ 

‘Women are regarded that way all the time,’ Mari said. ‘And just so you know, I have no desire to be Empress.’ 

(Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. P104.) 

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Synopsis:

Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – and marry the prince. Only one girl will get through. The rest die. The contest is held once every generation, and every girl is eligible to apply. Mari has trained for it all her life. The only problem is that as a yōkai she is not eligible to apply. The emperor is determined to see all yōkai destroyed.

Her path collides with that of Taro, the young prince who is determined to be something more than a prize. Taro spends his days making beautiful creatures from metal, and he questions his father’s hard line on yōkai. It seems that Mari and Taro are destined to be together.

At the same time, half- yōkai Akira joins up with the revolution as a way to watch over Mari.

A human, a yōkai and an outcast. The fate of the world rests in their hands.

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Review:

It was the world which drew me to this book. The idea of rooms themed to the seasons which are designed to kill. Sentimental portrays of the seasons abound, and we forget that the quickest and most silent killer in our world is exposure. This story describes the seasons in a way which makes them beautiful and deadly. 

At first, this seems like many YA novels. A savvy girl, a sensitive prince and a brooding boy in the shadows. Do not be fooled. The book shows these roles for the stereotypes they are. Mari, Taro and Akira’s character go so much deeper than their surfaces. Each has an agenda and their story places out against the changing face of an empire.

 This is feminism for people of all genders. It crushes the myths we have been told about love and relationships and the differences between men and women. 

The main story is interspersed with a story of the Gods, which echoes the shifting attitudes the main characters experience towards this theme. After finishing the novel, I went back over this sub-plot and took so much more in than I did the first time around.

I enjoyed another YA novel about yōkai last year and was pleased that Empress Of All Seasons explores that mythology in more detail. One of the best things about reading books from all cultures is learning about different myths and customs. Although shapeshifters exist in Western myths, it is interesting to see different interpretations of their nature. I hope to read more fantasy inspired by world cultures. 

A real page-turner and a setting which will haunt you long after you finish reading. I look forward to reading more from Emiko Jean.

 

Thanks to Gollancz for my gifted copy of Empress Of All Seasons. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Michelle Harrison, author of ‘A Pinch Of Magic’, talks about curses in folklore.

Blog Tour: Michelle Harrison, author of A Pinch Of Magic, talks about curses in folklore.

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Author Michelle Harrison with a copy of ‘A Pinch Of Magic’. 

About A Pinch Of Magic

Betty Widdershins longs to leave the family home on the island of Crowstone and explore the world. Crowstone is bleak and oppressive with its marshes and tower and prison and Betty is certain there must be more to the world. Then she learns that she and her sisters are bound by an ancient family curse to stay on the island for the rest of their lives …

I have been a fan of Michelle Harrison’s work for years. Her novels combine the folklore and old traditions which I knew and loved as a listener of folk music with page-turning adventures. A Pinch Of Magic is no exception. To read my full review, click here. 

I wanted to hear more about the curse which inspired the story, and what draws Michelle Harrison to folklore. She has not only answered those questions, but she has also made me think more deeply about what the curse in her story meant to its caster. 

Thank you to Michelle Harrison for your time. 

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Curses in Folklore by Michelle Harrison 

Folklore has featured in every book I’ve written to date, whether it’s wishing, witches, or ways of protection against malevolent fairies. As a horror-loving teenager I was obsessed with folklore in its modern form of urban legends. I was also terribly superstitious – something I’ve managed to get under control over the past few years, although it’s still an effort not to salute solitary magpies!

The concept for A Pinch of Magic came from the Essex village of Canewdon. It’s said that there will always be six witches there, and whenever one dies a stone falls from the church walls. The thought of stones falling out of an ancient building to warn of approaching death was something I found incredibly eerie, and evolved into the idea of a family curse. In my story, Betty Widdershins learns of the curse on her thirteenth birthday: no Widdershins girl can ever leave the island of Crowstone. If they do, they’ll die by the next sunset. Along with her sisters, Fliss and Charlie, Betty sets out to break the curse with the help of three magical items which have also been passed down the family: a hand mirror, a set of nesting dolls, and an old carpet bag. But are the objects enough to help them, or will they lead to more trouble?

It’s easy to understand the enduring appeal of a curse within a story. Many of us believe in luck, and we’ve all had times when it seems nothing more can go wrong or, conversely, we’re having such a run of good fortune we start to worry that it’s all about to crash down around us. The idea of curses plays on our fears; what if there are forces we can’t control working against us? Or, more frighteningly, someone who wishes us harm? We know the intent to curse is real enough – witch ladders and wax figures in museums all over the country are proof of the malevolent workings of dismissed servants and spurned lovers.

With our childhoods steeped in tales of spinning wheels and pricked fingers, it’s no wonder curses are rooted in our consciousness. Yet perhaps there’s another reason we find them so fascinating, even if we don’t like to admit it; they feed our desires for good old revenge – and gossip. Because curses aren’t thrown around lightly. There’s usually a reason, whether its jealousy, rivalry, or payback. When I created the Widdershins curse, I knew what it was, but not why – or with whom – it had begun. I only knew it would have come from a serious grudge against the family, and as I unpicked the knots and worked it all out the lines between villain and victim blurred. As Betty discovers, the wicked witch is not always what she’s made out to be, and perhaps anyone is capable of casting a curse, given the right motivation . . .

Check out the other stops on the tour: 

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Thank you to Simon And Schuster UK for arranging this piece as part of a promotional blog tour and for providing me with a proof of the book. Opinions remain my own.

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Pinch Of Magic by Michelle Harrison

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Synopsis:

Betty Widdershins longs to leave the family home on the island of Crowstone and explore the world. Crowstone is bleak and oppressive with its marshes and tower and prison and Betty is certain there must be more to the world. Then she learns that she and her sisters are bound by an ancient family curse to stay on the island for the rest of their lives.

That isn’t the only magic in the Widdershins family. Three magical objects have been passed down the family for generations – a carpet bag, a mirror and a set of nesting dolls. The sisters inherit one object each and with them, they gain a pinch of magic.

Betty is determined to break the curse but to do that she must unravel certain mysteries – who is the mysterious prisoner Granny has been visiting in prison? Do the special objects contain enough magic to help break the curse? Who was the witch who cursed the family and began all this in the first place?

An atmospheric and timeless fairy tale.BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Review:

An ancient curse. Three objects with a specific and special magic. A spooky prison island. Three sisters whose desires pull them in different directions. This story has all the ingredients of a great tale and Michelle Harrison brings them together as only a true storyteller can.

I have loved Harrison’s work since I first read The Thirteen Treasures almost ten years ago. With black cats and quaint place names and references to folk customs, the settings are straight after my own heart. She’s also a great writer. Her plots keep the reader turning the pages will her prose ensures they savour every word. A Pinch Of Magic is no exception. It will delight old fans and new readers. The setting is particularly evocative – the misty marshlands and the three islands. Repent (which houses the prison), Lament (where the dead are buried) and Torment (which is out of bounds to all but the exiled.) The thought of looking across the water and seeing those islands is enough to give anyone chills.

The three sisters – Betty, Fliss and Charlie – are distinct and memorable characters. Each one has a strong voice and we very quickly learn what they want and how they are likely to react in any given situation. Charlie particularly is a treasure. She’s the youngest and she demands to be heard, even if it goes against her older sisters’ plans. She is the voice of little sisters everywhere, and even those of us who have grown up until we are practically the same age as our siblings will smile with recognition.

The readers learn about the Widdershins family history along with Betty, Fliss and Charlie until we find out how the curse came to be. I love it when a strand of the story builds up to a full understanding of historical events. The story concerns two sisters, Sorsha and Prue, and their desperation to leave the island of Torment.

A Pinch Of Magic is a book full of wonder. I was up into the small hours to see the heroines through to the final pages. A must-read for fans of fantasy and adventure.

 

To meet the heroines of this story and to share their very special gingerbread recipe, click here. 

 

A Pinch Of Magic is available 07.02.2019 from Simon And Schuster UK. Thanks to Simon And Schuster UK for my proof copy.