Thoughts on FOLKLORN

Howdy, howdy! How is everyone doing? Got my second Pfizer shot last week and had a few days of being beyond tired, plus some other minor side effects that really only lasted the night after the shot. I’m fine now. And I’m still breaking in my new computer. But enough about that stuff! It’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time. This month, I decided to request something a little different. It’s a strange mixture of ghost story and fairy tale and some kind of literary fiction. Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur was released yesterday (the 27th) from Erewhon Books. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Pretty cover.

Folklorn follows Elsa Park, a particle physicist, as she runs into an old friend in the most unlikely of places: Antarctica. The problem? Her old friend is imaginary. When the friend follows her to Sweden, then back to America, Elsa both fears for her sanity and relishes in the familiar comfort and safety her childhood friend provides. Elsa must fight for her place in the world, overcome family issues, and decipher the riddle-like fairy tales her mother left for her. Otherwise, she risks losing herself completely.

The plot of this story feels secondary to the character development, which gives it a very different vibe compared to more traditional genre stories. Yes, there’s an imaginary friend pushing Elsa to complete quests leading to a big reveal, but the monsters and obstacles are all too human. And the real payoff is Elsa’s realizations about her mother and father and brother, but mostly herself. Her own transformation is the best thing about this book, though the interspersed fairy tales are a close second to me.

Everyone keeps transforming in this book.

Speaking of character development, Elsa isn’t the only one who grows throughout this story, but let’s start with her. We see her transform from a closed off, almost bitter person into someone who can work through their issues and open themselves a bit. She isn’t great at it yet, but she’s chosen to make the effort. Her father turns from the monster of her youth into a pitiful old man. Her brother goes from a knight to a manipulative jerk to a normal, struggling human being. Oskar is never really a prince, but he helps Elsa during her struggles, and finds out that he’s allowed to become a different person than he was in his youth. The only person who doesn’t get a chance to evolve in real time is Elsa’s mother, but even she morphs into something new in Elsa’s mind.

A big portion of this book deals with cultural identity and finding a balance between where you come from versus where you end up. It can be a little difficult to read at times, especially if you’re sensitive to race issues. But I ended up feeling like I learned some things from the book. There’s the whole aspect of immigrating to the US after the Korean war and how Elsa’s parents survived both the war and the move and found ways to both fit in and stand out in their new community. There’s also the racism Elsa and her brother faced as children (and still face) and the expectations placed on them, plus the ingrained anger between Koreans and Japanese. And there’s the racism Elsa and Oskar face in Sweden, despite Oskar being raised there. And Oskar’s entire story arc of being an adopted child. It’s about all of these things, but it’s not preachy or anything like that. It’s just people doing the best they can.

Even if we have to unlearn some stuff first.

The writing was interesting. The flow isn’t as smooth as I tend to prefer. The rhythm feels jerky, like it’s trying to trip you up as you read. This works surprisingly well for this book. It mimics Elsa’s unstable emotions. It’s weird, but not altogether unpleasant.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Folklorn. The combination of genres and the general growth of the characters made this an interesting read. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more work by Angela Mi Young Hur.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy fairy tales and well-rounded characters, it’s definitely worth picking up. Even if you’re just looking for something different, check it out.

Thoughts on BURNING ROSES

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of September, so you know what that means. It’s book review time! This month, I opted for something on the fairytale side of things. I didn’t realize it was a novella when I requested it, but I’m glad it was something short and entertaining. I’ve been reading too many longer things lately, so it was a nice change of pace. It’s S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses and it was released yesterday (09/29) from Tor/Forge. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

Love the cover.

Burning Roses follows Rosa and Hou Yi, two middle aged women who are the stuff of legends. The problem with being legends is that you have to gain that reputation somehow and that can be misleading, even if it’s all wonder and prestige. Both women are filled with regret and running away from their pasts when they decide to team up and protect their makeshift home from the sunbirds that have started attacking the surrounding area. They don’t expect to make it out alive, but maybe one last adventure can help to resolve some of the regret that plagues them.

I’m going to be completely honest with you. I read this about four weeks ago and have been putting off writing this review purely out of laziness. But what I’ve discovered from my procrastination is that this book is pretty forgettable. I had to skim the first chapter just to remind myself what it’s about. The details came back to me fairly quickly, but I shouldn’t have needed the nudge. I probably won’t remember it at all a year from now. That’s not to say the story is bad (it’s actually really good). It’s just that among the plethora of fairytale retellings, it doesn’t stick out in my mind.

To be fair, this is me with most fairytale retellings.

The fairytales. This is a mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood (Rosa) and Hou Yi the Archer from Chinese mythology which I’m not familiar with at all. Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Beauty and the Beast are also mixed in for good measure. I also feel like there might have been some others I wasn’t familiar with, like maybe the thing with the dragon. But the way they were all blended together made for a really nice story of family tragedy and toxic friendships and all consuming obsessions and, of course, love. I really enjoy how the story pulls enough from the originals to make them recognizable, but twists and weaves them into something new.

The story itself. This is a nice read. I took a few days to get through it, but at around 80 pages it could easily have been done in one sitting. The way their pasts unfold, mingled in with the present story is lovely. My only complaint is the same one I have with most novellas: the story feels incomplete. There’s a finality to it, but there’s also this gaping hole where we don’t get to see the end of Rosa’s story. It’s weird how it seems to start out as Rosa’s story, then shifts to Hou Yi’s story during which we get her ending, but it never shifts back to give us a satisfying ending for Rosa. Maybe that’s another story, but it doesn’t really feel like something that would require another book.

Basically.

The writing is lovely. It’s not super poetic, but there’s this nice rhythm that carries you through the story. The imagery is deliberate and helps bring the story to life. It’s a smooth read.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Burning Roses while I was reading it. Despite the unsatisfactory ending and the forgettableness of it, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more stories by S.L. Huang.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars (3.5 really, but I rounded up). If you enjoy fairytale retellings, it’s worth a look. And it’s short enough that even if it’s not your cup of tea, you’re not wasting too much time.

Thoughts On THE NIGHT COUNTRY

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of January, so you all know what that means. It’s book review time! So, the place where I usually get ARCs for these reviews has been super slow about responding to requests, so somehow I ended up with no books for January and two for February. Yup. Next month you’ll get a review on both the 19th and 26th. Anyway, I decided to review a book I forgot I had pre-ordered for January. The Night Country by Melissa Albert is the second book in The Hazel Wood series. It was released on January 7th by Flatiron Books (an imprint of Macmillan Books). Since I don’t have to thank anyone, let’s get on with the review! Beware, there are potential spoilers ahead if you haven’t read The Hazel Wood (book one of the series).

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It really is a lovely cover.

The Night Country follows Alice now that she’s back in New York. She goes to meetings with other ex-stories to try to get her life on track, until a mysterious newcomer upsets the balance. Then, Alice finds out ex-stories are being murdered and having pieces stolen from them. As she tries to figure out what’s going on, she also starts receiving magical letters from someone in her past (yeah, it’s him). From there, in typical fairytale fashion, things keep getting weirder.

I’ll be honest… I don’t actually remember much about book one. I must’ve liked it, otherwise I wouldn’t have pre-ordered this one. But I basically went into this book blind and had to piece together my memories of the first book from the clues here. If you have time, I definitely suggest at least skimming the first book to catch up. That being said, I enjoyed this book. A lot. I probably would have caught on to some stuff sooner if I had read the first one again, but I caught on fast enough without it.

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Me as I was reading.

About the characters. Alice is still a whiny little so-and-so. She isn’t particularly likeable. But she’s at the age (18-ish) where being a self-absorbed bitch (sorry, there’s no polite word for it) is completely normal human behavior. Combine that with her violent tendencies (part of her story personality) and she becomes someone you just don’t like and have no desire to like. That’s okay. Because we also have Ella and Finch and Sophia and a whole cast of characters we can root for. Granted, some of them are also firmly in the unlikeable category until we see their stories. I know a lot of readers have to connect with the main character to get into a story. I don’t. As long as I enjoy the plot and have a regularly appearing character to look forward to, I’m okay.

The plot. It’s not original, but it’s creepy and fun. A serial killer thriller meets a bunch of fairy tales. That’s right up my alley. There are some weak spots. For instance, I was more interested in Iolanthe’s motivation than anything. We get bits and pieces of her story and have no idea if she’s lying or not. And all we get at the end is that she wanted to go home. I really hope that we get more of her story at some point. The ending of the overall story is a little weak as well, but that feels like it’s because the author wanted to leave it with the potential for more books while wrapping it up just enough that the readers are satisfied in case nothing else happens.

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Yup. Seems that way.

The writing is beautiful and poetic and makes for a quick read. The only observation (it’s not really a complaint) I have is that there are a lot of obscure pop culture references. It’s not a bad thing, but it will definitely date the book and make it more difficult for readers to get into. Especially five, ten, twenty years from now when the references are no longer relevant. I didn’t even understand some of them. And no, I’m not Googling every name I don’t know just to see who a character mentioned in passing kind of resembles or to find out what’s playing in the background or whatever. I’m lazy. That’s too much work.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed The Night Country. Despite its flaws, it’s an entertaining read. I will definitely keep an eye out for more from Melissa Albert.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. I can see why some people don’t like it, but if you’re into dark fantasy and thrillers, check it out. Even if you were on the fence about book one, pick it up. This one was better in my opinion.

Thoughts on SNOW WHITE LEARNS WITCHCRAFT

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time!  Didn’t I just do this?  Seems like it, but that was just to make up for January.  February gets its own book.  This month, I’m going to talk about Snow White Learns Witchcraft, which is a collection of short stories and poems by Theodora Goss.  Technically, I received access to an advanced reader copy (ARC) through NetGalley, but they archived it without warning a few days after the approval and I hadn’t downloaded it yet.  Sadness.  Then, I realized it was releasing on February 5th, so I would have plenty of time to buy a copy and read it in time to review it.  Happiness!  Anyway, let’s get to it.

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A lovely cover.

Snow White Learns Witchcraft is a little misleading as a title for the entire collection because Snow White isn’t the only fairy tale revisited among these pieces.  Goss adds her own personal touch as she retells many beloved tales from Goldilocks to the Little Mermaid to Cinderella to some that I’m not even familiar with.  A mixture of poetry and short stories, this collection is sure to have something for all fairy tale lovers to get lost in.

I think I’ll start with the short stories.  My personal favorite was “Conversations with the Sea Witch,” but I admit that I’m biased because the Little Mermaid happens to be my favorite fairy tale.  It tells the story of an old crippled woman who has lived her happy life with her prince and is now awaiting death.  Each day her servants wheel her out on the balcony for fresh air and she has conversations with her friend, the sea witch who gave her legs.  We get to hear about the witch and how she ended up the way she is.  It’s a neat, quick story.  Most of the stories in this collection come at their mother fairy tales from new and interesting directions.  Some are set in olden times while others are in the present and many are somewhere between the two.  Many of the tales are quick reads, but some drag a little.  I think that’s why “A Country Called Winter” wasn’t as enjoyable as others for me; it felt slow.  It was one of the tales I wasn’t familiar with, but it was predictable enough that I wasn’t pulled along the way I would have been if I didn’t know what was going to happen.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked this story (and all the others), it simply wasn’t my favorite.

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She does get nasty.

The poetry in this collection was wonderful.  “The Ogress Queen” delights the senses as she ponders what delicacies Helios, Aurora, and their mother would taste like.  “Diamonds and Toads” offers up an amusing situation that leaves the reader with a number of potential lessons it could be trying to teach.  I’d like to believe it’s showing us that every bad situation has a potential upside if you’re willing to look for it.  Like all fairy tales, each poem leaves us with a lesson.  Some of these, the speaker comes right out and says, others we have to dig for.

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The writing in this collection is as varied as the stories and poems.  Goss captures each voice like she’s the sea witch.  As I said earlier, the pace changes from piece to piece, but all in all this was a fast and fun read.

Ultimately, I’m happy that I went ahead and bought Snow White Learns Witchcraft.  Fairy tales are some of my favorite reading material.  This book was worth adding to my collection.

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Overall, I gave this collection 4 out of 5 stars.  I wavered between four and five because I always expect to not enjoy some pieces as much as others when reading a collection like this, so I shouldn’t let that affect my decision, right?  But I settled on four because it seemed fair and true to how I felt about everything.  If you like fairy tales, check this book out!