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 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!