Review ~ The Hermit

Cover via Goodreads

The Hermit by Monica Friedman

The Sonoran Desert is full of life, but that doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.

Kaija Mathews doesn’t want to talk to anyone, ever, so she’s hiding in a cave in the desert all alone. Or, she would be all alone if fifteen years of deep meditation beside a magic spring hadn’t cursed her with the ability to converse with animals. The other creatures always respected her privacy, until the massacres began. Suddenly, she can’t get rid of the local fauna and their stories of an insatiable monster that kills without ceasing, leaving an unearthly stench in its wake. Only a holy woman, they say, can defeat it. Kaija’s no saint, but if she’s ever to enjoy her solitude again, she’ll have to play along.

Worse, she’ll need to face the challenges of the world she abandoned, obstacles like her nightmare of an ex-husband, and a drifter half her age who feels like a sweet dream. To do battle with a bulletproof monster straight out of North American mythology, Kaija must learn what it means to stare down fear, when to fight, and most of all, how to answer hatred with love. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
K. J. Kabza recommended this book. Dang it, he’s a good writer and he has good taste…

What Worked
First off, content warning: there are spiders in this book. Yes, there are also coyotes, packrats, javelina, and even a creosote bush with personality, but there are also spiders. Many, many spiders. Friedman works many Native American myths and lores into this story and one of them is Spider Grandmother. Despite my problems with spiders, I got through it. In fact, there are a few times when Brown (a brown recluse) adds some deeply funny dark humor to the proceedings.

The pace of this story is rather slow, and that’s okay. It fits. Even in the cities, the desert isn’t a fast place. The stories, Kaija’s, Little Brother’s, the monster’s, all unspool gradually. And stories are very important to this narrative. Kaija, a librarian before she was a hermit, gains knowledge when she learns to listen to stories again. Kaija’s character arch is also long. She resists change for most of the book, believing that she’s living her best life rather than just hiding. Oh, and kudos for the pairing of a middle-aged woman with a younger man. I do love Peter S. Beagle, but his older-men/younger-women plots are getting old.

I love books with a strong sense of setting and, while being transported to somewhere else is often nice, I also enjoy reading about the places I am more familiar with. This book is set in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. I’m not a camper or a hiker, but we’ve driven through the desert many times and I find that I do love its beauty and its harshness in my own city-girl kind of way.

What Didn’t Work
There was a level of wrap-up at the end of the book that felt weird to me. The resolution involves magical elements overlapping with dead-serious real elements. I kept expecting the mythological to sort of fade out of the story or not be seen by the “real.” End of the day, the monster, Eagirl, killed people. While her mystery is solved, there are still…dead people. And that gets sort of ignored by the police who are involved at the end. Would I be happier if I was given some “all a dream” type explanation? No, probably not. I don’t know a way around it.

Overall
I enjoyed this book. Often, my continued reading (or even watching, in the case of TV and movies) comes down to the answers to two questions: Is this setting somewhere I want to be? Are these characters people I want to spend time with? When the answer is yes to both, I’m a happy (city-girl) camper.

Random trivia: I didn’t realize until after I finished The Hermit, but Monica Friedman and I have stories in the same issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly!

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Brother Wolf Press, 2016
Acquired: Amazon, 12/16/16
Genre: fantasy, fairy tale, magical realism

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Review ~ The Raven and the Reindeer

Cover via Goodreads

The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher

When Gerta’s friend Kay is stolen away by the mysterious Snow Queen, it’s up to Gerta to find him. Her journey will take her through a dangerous land of snow and witchcraft, accompanied only by a bandit and a talking raven. Can she win her friend’s release, or will following her heart take her to unexpected places?

A strange, sly retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Snow Queen,” by T. Kingfisher, author of “Bryony and Roses” and “The Seventh Bride.” (via Goodreads)

As T. Kingfisher (or, Ursula Vernon as she’s otherwise known) points out in her acknowledgements, Hans Christian Andersen “was a weird dude.” When a witch, a sarcastic raven, a magical reindeer skin, and a half dozen giant white otters are added in, you don’t notice so much. As in the shorter stories I’ve lately read by Vernon, I enjoy her humor and her mixing of myths and religions.

“Are you a witch?” asked Janna.

“No,” said the old woman, “I’m a Lutheran. But we’ll make d0…”

In modern life, we often have the family we’re born into and the family we choose. Often what is expected of us is deeply connected with that first kind of family. Greta is expected to become a weaver. She’s expected to marry the boy (literally) next door and expected to live ever after, even if not entirely happily. Kay’s kidnapping sets this plan on end. As Gerta fights to regain status quo, she finds a new type of family and new paths that aren’t expected.

With snow and reindeer and a Snow Queen, this was pretty much a perfect read for Christmas week. The beginning is maybe a little slow to start, but the plot is threaded together more tightly than I was expecting. The payoff for early misadventures is at the end.

Publishing info, my copy: kindle, Red Wombat Tea Company, 2016
Acquired: Dec. 7, 2016, Amazon
Genre: fantasy, fairy tale

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Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “Catskin”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Catskin” by Kelly Link

Card picked: Five of Clubs

From: Thrilling Tales, ed. by Michael Chabon

Thoughts, briefly (sometimes briefly is all I have): I’m generally a fan of Kelly Link. I read “The Specialist’s Hat” as my first Lunar Extra of the year and received an extra gothic surprise. She’s sort of a cross between Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson. Her fairy tales are dark gray, often in the form of “Do you see that object you think you know? It is not at all what you think it is…” And that of course leads to very uneasy moments as the world you think you know is slowly upended. In “Catskin,” cats, children, and houses are all tilted as a witch’s child and a witch’s cat (or maybe the dead witch herself), take revenge for her poisoning. Except, it’s not *that* straightforward. There are themes here of growing up and dealing with grief that I haven’t entirly processed yet. This wasn’t a comfortable read, but it was still enjoyable.

#COYER Fairy Tales with a Twist Reviews

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July 11th – 13th: Fairy Tales with a Twist
Read fairy tale re-tellings and give those childhood favorites a twist!

Supernatural Fairy Tales The Storyteller's Wife Never Ever After: Three Short Stories

Supernatural Fairy Tales by Dorlana Vann

With nods to some classic fairy tales, this collection certainly fit the bill. “Blueberry Eyes” is the easiest to identify as a twisted tale, but as Vann notes in her afterword, all are inspired by classic fairy tales. How do the Emperor’s New Clothes look on a vampire? What happens when an artist finds “His Soul Inspiration” in the old tales and paints his wife as a mermaid? There are a few neat concepts in Supernatural Fairy Tales. My only criticism is that the stories often play with the concept of memory and the narratives end up being a little muddled. My favorite: “The Gift” because I can’t resist the Weird West.

The Storyteller’s Wife by Eugie Foster

“If this was…a real fairy tale, she knew her lines.”

Not a twisted tale, but a tale of faerie and one so very bittersweet. Eugie Foster might be my favorite fairy tale writer. Yes, beating out even Peter S. Beagle.

Never Ever After: Three Short Stories by Ruth Nestvold

It’s hard to get into an already existing fantasy world, which is what it felt like I was doing in “A Serca Tale.” Even the title leaves me a bit short in the info department. I did not finish  “King Orfeigh” because I can’t get my head into a second person POV.  “Happily Ever Awhile” was the best of the trio with the best title of the entire readathon.

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Review ~ Briar Rose

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Cover via Goodreads

It is an old, old tale, the German story of Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty. Now one of America’s most celebrated writers tells it afresh, set this time in the forests patrolled by the German army during World War II. A tale of castles, of mists and thorns, of a beautiful sleeping princess, and an astonishing revelation of death and rebirth. (via Goodreads)

This is a book I’ve owned for a very long time. I bought it when it was newly published, back when I was in college. Twenty years is a good estimate. It’s traveled back and forth from dorm rooms to my parent’s house to the house I shared one summer to the apartments I lived in before I got married to the apartment I’ve lived in for the last 14 years. What took me so long? Books about the Holocaust are like that. You can’t wait to be in the right mood for them. The mood never comes.

Becca and her two sisters grew up with their Gemma’s version of Sleeping Beauty. It mostly followed the usual tale, but with some curious differences. Even Becca, the good granddaughter, never paid attention to the inaccuracies until Gemma dies and leaves Becca a box of strange documents concerning a woman named Gitl Mandlestein, not a name familiar to Gemma’s family. Becca unravels the tale, following her grandmother’s story to an extermination camp named Chelmno.

I bought this book because I was intrigued by the combining of fairy tale and history. Gemma’s story, repeating it again and again to her daughter and granddaughters is the distillation of  “never forget,” even if there are part of her history that Gemma can’t quite remember. On a personal level, after the death of my own closest grandmother, it was a tough read and once again I wish I knew more solid details about Oma’s life.

This book was one the first that I encountered that was labeled “Young Adult.” When I bought it, that’s just what I was. It very much fits the criteria I consider YA. Becca isn’t only looking for her grandmother’s identity, but her own as well. Sometimes the writing was a little clunky. I haven’t read much Yolen so I’m not sure if it’s her, or whether she was trying to be lighter with the vocabulary.

Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: November 15th 1993
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Why did I choose this book? Decided to finally read it for Once Upon a Time Challenge.

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