A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables) by Alix E. Harrow

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no-one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate. (taken from Amazon)

Here’s the thing: Alix E. Harrow is a brilliant writer. She could write a book about the color taupe and I would stand in line to read it. She’s that good. So when I heard about A Spindle Splintered, I grabbed it as quickly as possible. I didn’t know too much about it, but I knew I needed to read it.

I was a little surprised at how short it was. I expected it to be longer based on Harrow’s last few books (which I highly suggest reading, by the way). I am always a littles hesitant about shorter books, wondering whether they can tell complete tales as well as a longer novel can. That’s a silly hang-up on my part since I’ve read many shorter novels that have been absolutely amazing, but we all have our failings.

The author embraces the shorter format, eschewing long character introductions in favor of quick ones with the development continuing at a rapid pace throughout the rest of the story. While there is no doubt that the characters are fully rounded (especially Charm), I do wish that there had been time to really get into the nitty gritty of what made them tick. For example, Zinnia has spent her entire life in a tug of war between trying to do the things that every kid and teen does and the awareness that she is living on borrowed time. I would have loved to see more of that struggle and view how that has shaped her every action. There is a bit of explanation about her relationship with her parents which I found very interesting but I would have loved to see more.

I loved that there wasn’t a ton of lead up to the main event. Instead, we are pretty much tossed right in, which added to the tone of unbelievability meets why the crap not? that pervaded the story. The side characters were great, especially the witch that cursed the Sleeping Beauty that Zinnia meets. That whole confrontation did not go at all the way I expected and I was completely on board with that.

There wasn’t a lot of time spent on the world building because there didn’t need to be. It was every fairy tale you’ve ever read, every fantasy trope played out in exaggerated detail. It worked very well for the plot as everyone knows the original story of Sleeping Beauty (or at the very least, the Disney version) and this was a new take on the tale. There didn’t need to be a ton of explanation. That being said, Alix E. Harrow made sure to provide extra details where it was needed, without slowing the pace of the book, again showing off her writing chops.

There are Arthur Rackham illustrations throughout, which provided an enchanting touch, if a wee bit twisted. In fact, the entire book points out the less-than-savory parts of fairy tales and fables, and finds ways to compare them to the less-than-wonderful things in real life. It was very well done.

My big quibble with A Spindle Splintered is that I really didn’t like the length. I wanted more. More detail, more expansion, more from the final confrontation. Not because the book was bad, but because Alix E. Harrow is such a good writer. I wanted to live in her story for much longer than I was able to.

At the end of the day, I really did enjoy A Spindle Splintered, but not nearly as much as I loved The Once and Future Witches and The Ten Thousand Doors of January. In this case, definitely blame the reader and not the book.

For the authors: thank you


I’ll start this post by saying the now overused phrase, it’s been a tough year. I kind of think that’s the unspoken assumption at this point: “I’m doing well” (considering it’s a tough year), or “It’s been a bad day” (in the middle of a tough year). The book community isn’t exempt from the “tough year” unfortunately. I could go into the nitty gritty, but smarter minds than mine have already done that. So, this one is for the authors: you are appreciated.

I know it must be a discouraging time for so many of you, either with news you might have received, or just with life in general. Being an author is not for the faint of heart. You do not have it easy. To take the words in your mind and share them with others requires a massive amount of bravery. It also requires being willing to relinquish a little bit of your vision, knowing that the reader will picture your characters differently in their mind than you do. That takes guts.

This year has been full of changes in schedules, jobs, and lifestyle. There has been worry, and there has been loss. I cannot tell you what a godsend it has been to be able to curl up with a book – either an old friend, or a new discovery – and leave it all behind for a bit. From familiar favorites such as Dragonlance and The Night Circus, to more recent favorites, like The Ventifact Colossus and The Devil and the Dark Water, these books have kept me calm(ish).

Authors, what you do is important. So, so important. You aren’t just writing words on a page. Rather, you are building an escape pod. Your words are reminding us that even though we’re all stuck in our homes bunker-style, we aren’t alone. Good still exists and so does hope, laughter, creativity, new worlds, and mystery.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you for all you do. Keep writing. We’ll keep reading.

With Love,

A Voracious Reader

Midnight Sisters by Sarah E. Boucher

Midnight Sisters: A Retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses by [Sarah E Boucher]
Do not meddle with the Master’s daughters.The words rattled around Jonas’ head. What was the punishment again? Death? Dismemberment? Jonas, the newest addition to the gardening staff, can’t recall the exact penalty for breaking the rule. What does it matter anyway? He would never dream of meddling with the Earl of Bromhurst’s haughty daughters. Until he comes face to face with Lady Ariela, the eldest of the Master’s daughters. Her elusive smile and open manner cause him to question his convictions. In no time, he’s drawn into Lady Ariela’s world of mystery and intrigue, a world where she and her sisters will do anything—including leaving twelve empty beds at midnight—to escape their father’s strict rules.Only Jonas can uncover the truth and save them from their father’s wrath and their own folly, if he is willing to risk everything he’s ever worked for.Midnight Sisters is a reimagining of the classic fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses that will win the hearts of readers of all ages. (taken from Amazon)

 

Once Upon a Time…there was a reimagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I really liked that fairy tale when I was a child, so I thought I’d give this book a go. It looked to be a far cry from the other recent retelling of this tale, so I was curious about the direction the author would take.

The reader grabs her trusty bookmark and is ready for adventure. The story-line was relatively close to the original tale, with minor changes here and there. The main character is a gardener named Jonas. He has the misfortune to fall in love with one of the king’s daughters, the one thing all the staff is warned against. As he gets to know the princess better, he starts to think he is the only one who can save all of the princesses from both their father and themselves.

There are dangers ahead.  Unfortunately, I had a bit of an issue with the main character. Jonas seemed forever surprised that the princess had the ability to be both attractive and intelligent. A misogynist hero isn’t quite to my liking. He was also kind of a jerk to his fellow gardener who was in a similar situation. As for his fellow gardener: he vacillated between using any female who seemed to find him attractive and being a decent guy. He was the most likable character in the book, however. I suppose that sort of says something about the characters.

Magic abounds. While it took a while to get flowing, the story settled into a nice pacing. It was obvious that the author is a fan of the original fairy tale and she carried some of that wonder over to Midnight Sisters. The setting felt very real and was well thought out.

They lived happily ever after? To be entirely honest, this book fell a little flat. I place the blame on the characters. It’s hard to enjoy a book when the characters are so difficult to read about. I don’t mind having a character that’s a little rough around the edges, or even a character that’s a jerk, as long as they aren’t all like that. If you don’t mind wanting to smack each character multiple times throughout the book, Midnight Sisters might be enjoyable for you.

Fantastical Illustrations in Picture Books

Lately, I’ve been trying to read more outside my comfort zone. I have tried to not judge a book prematurely based on its cover (I struggle with that one, to be honest). I find this kind of funny, because children judge books first and foremost by their covers.

Before readers can read on their own, a cover is what draws them in. As an adult, the books I remember most from my childhood have amazing illustrations. I was particularly interested in fairy tales and Arthurian stories (are you surprised? I know, who would have thought?), and the amazing illustrations found in some of those books have stuck with me.

I have my own children now, and they love books too. I’ve used that as an excuse to buy myself some of my favorites from my childhood, and my husband likes to surprise me with them as well.

Here are a few of my favorite fairy tales, based on language of course, but also on the incredible pictures lurking on the pages. Pick these up for any child who likes the fantastical.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Mayer, Mercer, Mayer, Mercer ...

ANNIE AND AUNT: East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Mercer Mayer is pretty popular for his Little Critter books. However, his fairy tales are absolutely stunning. The writing flows well and the illustrations are magical.
Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, Trina Schart Hyman ...

Joy Clarkson on Twitter:

I’m not sure if this was the original dragon book that started my (ongoing) love of dragons, but if it wasn’t the first, it was close. Trina Schart Hyman rightfully deserves the Caldecott Award she received for her pictures in this one. Parents, plan on reading this one aloud to youngsters at first: it’s on the wordy side.

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Michael Hague

The Reluctant Dragon | Children's Books Wiki | Fandom

Animal Kingdom needs a dark ride. | Art, Illustration

Michael Hague is one of my favorite illustrators. His Alphabears is so charming and sweet. He lent his talents to this book and it works wonderfully. I love the whimsical touch he added.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft

The Twelve Dancing Princesses - Marianna Mayer - Paperback

Twelve Dancing Princesses - Exodus Books

Isn’t that art gorgeous? I have yet to add this one to my collection, but I loved it as a child. My favorite part was actually the images of the travel through the forest back and forth from the palace. It’s so beautiful.

Merlin and the Dragons by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Li Ming

Merlin and the Dragons (Picture Puffin Books): Yolen, Jane, Ming ...

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There’s no way I could have a post about fairy tales and Arthurian stories without including one written by Jane Yolen. The illustrations by Li Ming bring this book to a new level. I’d happily frame the picture of the dragons and hang it on my wall.

Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Mercer Mayer

Beauty and the Beast: Mayer, Marianna, Mayer, Mercer ...

Mercer Mayer, Beauty and the Beast | Beauty and the beast art ...

Are you noticing a trend? I am. Let’s just go ahead and say that any fairy tale illustrated by Mercer Mayer is going to be beautiful. I also highly suggest Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like and Sleeping Beauty.

Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zlinsky

Rumpelstiltskin] (By: Paul O. Zelinsky) [published: September ...

Paul O Zelinsky- Rumpelstiltskin

Okay, I know Rumpelstiltskin is supposed to be the villain, but I contend that everyone in this story is a little shady. Either way, I love the pictures in this version. This is another Caldecott Award winner, and with good reason.

The Kitchen Knight by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur: Margaret Hodges, Trina ...

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Last, but most certainly not least, I have another Arthurian tale illustrated by the incomparable Trina Schart Hyman. If only I had an iota of the talent she possesses. Sigh. Absolutely amazing.

What do you think? Are any of these household favorites? What amazingly illustrated fairy tales do I need to check out?

Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes by Nicky Raven and John Howe

Hardcover Beowulf : A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes Book

The exhilarating epic blazes to life — featuring illustrations by a lead artist on the LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy.

“Look into the flames and let your minds empty. . . . For this is a tale of blood and heat and ashes.”

It is a tale that has been retold countless times through the centuries — and here, in an enthralling edition illustrated by a noted Tolkien artist, the mighty Beowulf is well set to capture new legions of followers. This contemporary retelling of the ancient epic — narrated with a touch of banter by the faithful Wiglaf and featuring vividly dramatic illustrations — follows the mythic hero from his disarming of the gruesome Grendel to his sword battle with the monster’s sea hag mother to his final, fiery showdown with an avenging dragon. (taken from Amazon)
I love Beowulf. I have read a few different versions of it, as well as some novels that are inspired by this epic poem. When I found out that there is a retelling that includes illustrations by the artist John Howe, I just had to have it.

Like with any classic, there are translations and retellings. This would fall more under the “retelling” category than a full-blown new translation of the original text. It flows a little bit more like a fairy tale than like the epic itself. It’s also a bit simplified, which makes it more accessible to a broader age range. It’s a fantastic retelling, but in no way can it replace the original.

To be honest, what sold me on the book are the illustrations. Most of you know who John Howe is. For those who don’t let me give a little example of his fantasy cred: he was a concept designer for The Lord of the Rings movies (his style is very apparent in the Fell Beasts), has created cover art for many fantasy novels, worked on other movies such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and his art can even be found on Magic the Gathering cards (sadly, my own Magic cards don’t have his art on them). I personally also love his art in A Diversity of Dragons. And let me tell you, his popularity is well-deserved.

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His art in Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes is phenomenal. The depth and atmosphere he brought to the book elevates it from a story to something more. It drew me in. My oldest will be reading Beowulf  (Seamus Heaney’s translation) this school year and I am going to have him also read Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes. I am positive it will deepen his appreciation for the original, as well as give him an opportunity to enjoy some stunning artwork.

I highly suggest reading this book. Actually, just buy it and add it to your collection. I guarantee you’ll want to own it.

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