The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins

Mythology, Christianity, history … these are all ingredients that normally make a book grab me and hold my attention.  And The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins seemed like that kind of book.

But alas, I couldn’t get into this one. It has a lot of elements that I enjoy, but it just felt like a bit of a mess. As many reviewers have noted, the author frequently dumps his research regardless if it adds to the story or not. It also felt a little clichéd at this point.

The story of a powerful church violently destroying the dangerous free spirits and creatures of pagan Ireland. The church is hypocritical and power-hungry and everything you think you know about history and the Bible is wrong. It was all actually about a battle between humans and fairies, demons and other creatures. Witches control the thrones of Europe and on and on it goes.

This is the kind of book where you want to lose yourself in the story and are compelled to read it whenever you have free time.  But instead I had to force myself to finish it after I had invested time in starting.

If you like big, messy, sprawling stories about a secret history with lots of violence and sex then this may be for you. Just didn’t work for me.

Thanks to Viking and NetGalley for the review copy.

One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling by Hanan al-Shaykh (Translator),

Way back in July I was looking for books to load up on my Kindle to read on vacation.  In an attempt to keep my book spending to a minimum, I frequently use Overdrive to check out books from the local library to read on my Kindle.

I remember want to read Hanan al-Shaykh‘s retelling of One Thousand and One Nights when it came out last year. I think I even checked it out from the library in hardcover but never ended up reading it.

One Thousand and One NightsGathered and passed down over the centuries from India, Persia, and across the Arab world, the mesmerizing stories of One Thousand and One Nights tell of the real and the supernatural, love and marriage, power and punishment, wealth and poverty, and the endless trials and uncertainties of fate. They are related by the beautiful, wise, young Shahrazad, who gives herself up to murderous King Shahrayar. The king has vowed to deflower and then kill a virgin every night—but Shahrazad will not be defeated by the king’s appetites. To save herself, she cunningly spins a web of tales, leaving the king in suspense each morning, and thus prolonging her life for another day.

Acclaimed Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh has selected nineteen of these stories, retold them in modern English, and knitted them together into an utterly intoxicating collection. In al-Shaykh’s hands, Shahrazad’s tales are lush and evocative, rich with humor, and utterly captivating.

Well, this year I managed to complete the task but forgot to post a review. This is my attempt to rectify that omission.

I found it fascinating. At times sophisticated and subtle at others bawdy and blunt; full of magic and supernatural events but also dealing with the basic human emotions and the highs and lows of life.

Having read a decent amount of folklore and fairy tale there was much that was familiar in style and structure but knowing almost nothing about the originals (if you can call the various collections that) I don’t feel particularly well positioned to judge this retelling.

There was clearly a feminist or female slant which gave the stories a unique angle. But I think I would have to read a more traditional version to see the contrast more clearly.

Here is the Library Journal:

Gone are Aladdin, Ali Baba, and even much of Sinbad, but what remains is a haunting collection of stories about women who, if not always heroic, are resilient, funny, sexual, and, above all, smart. Anchored by two central framing narratives, the tales lead into one another like a set of matryoshka dolls. The beautiful language is deceptively simple: readers are in danger of being lulled into marathon reading sessions.

Publisher’s Weekly:

These stories pulse with sex, magic, and moral ambiguities; while terrible violence underscores moments of pure beauty. Guests are invited into a home only to encounter terrible cruelty; a woman becomes king so she can be a beacon for her lost love; a man plucks his eye for the pain he caused his family. Why retread such well-worn territory? In her foreword al-Shaykh (Women of Sand and Myrrh) speaks of rediscovering her own Arab roots while recognizing the power these ancient women held. Suprising and delightful, al-Shaykh’s masterful work has restored the tale to contemporary relevance. 

In the end I am glad I found time to read this retelling. It is an entertaining and eye-opening exploration of a classic of literature and storytelling through a unique lens.

Maybe I will finally make time to explore the traditional versions of these famous stories.  Seems like a natural path for my occasional dive into myths, legends, folk stories and fairy tales.

Unwitting Wisdom : An Anthology of Aesop's Fables by Helen Ward

Want to know how much of a book addict I am? I found a copy of Unwitting Wisdom : An Anthology of Aesop’s Fables by Helen Ward at Half Price Books for a dollar and even though I already have a copy I bought it anyway  It is simply too gorgeous of a book to pass up for a dollar. I will give it to someone as a gift.

Finding the book today inspired me to share it with you.  If you haven’t seen this beautiful work of art and literature I encourage you to seek it out.

For over 2,500 years the simple stories and wry humor of Aesop’s fables have entertained children and adults alike. Their lessons have seeped into the very fabric of our language, as evidenced by expressions such as “sour grapes” and “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Through the centuries many artists have risen to the challenge of interpreting their favorite tales. In this magnificent edition, award-winning illustrator Helen Ward has chosen a dozen of her favorite fables, painstakingly creating with words and breathtaking watercolors a dazzling new collection destined to become a classic.

I loved this book from the moment I saw it in the book store. And I remember reading it to my daughter when she was a baby.  It is a wonderful combination of illustrations and storytelling. The blurb above really doesn’t exaggerate about “creating with words and breathtaking watercolors a dazzling new collection destined to become a classic.”

This is a great book for story time, for just leafing through and enjoying the gorgeous illustrations or for reading on a quiet afternoon to appreciate the timeless stories.

For a taste of the illustrations see below.

The World Before This One by Rafe Martin

As long time readers will know, I have tried to redirect my book addiction toward library sales and Half Price Books discount sections; with children’s books being a particular favorite. This keeps me from going broke (or slows the process down at least) and means my kid’s bookshelves grow not my own.

It quite often also leads to stumbling on interesting stories, authors and illustrators.  The World Before This One is one such example.

Crow is a Seneca boy, coming of age in a time of war, in a time before stories. Cast out of the Seneca tribe, Crow and his grandmother struggle merely to find enough food to make it through the harsh winter. Then Crow finds a boulder in the woods that startles him by speaking. The Storytelling Stone tells Crow the great legends of the Seneca–tales of the Long Ago Time, when the Sky Women trod the Above World and a child could alter the ways of a people. Crow comes to realize his own power to effect change and his destiny as a Seneca man. But can the Stone be trusted?

Longtime readers will also not be shocked by my interest in this book. Traditional folklore and storytelling wrapped up in a beautifully illustrated volume? My kind of book. And for a dollar!

I picked this up on a recent outing and decided to read it right away as I was feeling blah about the other books I was reading at the moment.  It turned out to be a well done and creative take on Seneca folklore and mythology.

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Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

I am not sure when it happened but somewhere along the line I became interested in fairy tales.  Myths, legends, folklore, you name it, I find it interesting.  Literary adaptions, recreations, new translations, etc.  I have even gone so far as to collect dozens of children’s and adult fairy tale collections of various sorts from library sales and used book stores (and even occasionally newly published).

One of the wise folks at Viking Publishing figured this out and sent me Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman.

#1 New York Times bestseller Philip Pullman retells the world’s best-loved fairy tales on their 200th anniversary

Two centuries ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales. Now Philip Pullman, one of the most accomplished authors of our time, makes us fall in love all over again with the immortal tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Pullman retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.

Suffused with romance and villainy, danger and wit, the Grimms’ fairy tales have inspired Pullman’s unique creative vision—and his beguiling retellings will draw you back into a world that has long cast a spell on the Western imagination.

I was excited and I started reading it right away.

There was just one small problem.  I found it hard to read 50 fairy tales straight through like it was a novel.  I found myself reading a couple at night before bed, slowly making my way through the collection. So it took me some time to finish.  And of course, then I had to come up with something interesting to say about the volume … So here we find ourselves discussing the book months after it came out. How gauche, right? Sarcasm aside, the publisher probably would have preferred a quicker response but better late than never.

Nevertheless, if you are as fascinated by fairy tales as I am this is a must read. Pullman provides a wonderful collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with a straightforward and clean style. Plus, he adds some interesting and whimsical comments at the end of each story.

Continue reading

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

I am not sure when it happened but somewhere along the line I became interested in fairy tales.  Myths, legends, folklore, you name it, I find it interesting.  Literary adaptions, recreations, new translations, etc.  I have even gone so far as to collect dozens of children’s and adult fairy tale collections of various sorts from library sales and used book stores (and even occasionally newly published).

One of the wise folks at Viking Publishing figured this out and sent me Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman.

#1 New York Times bestseller Philip Pullman retells the world’s best-loved fairy tales on their 200th anniversary

Two centuries ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales. Now Philip Pullman, one of the most accomplished authors of our time, makes us fall in love all over again with the immortal tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Pullman retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.

Suffused with romance and villainy, danger and wit, the Grimms’ fairy tales have inspired Pullman’s unique creative vision—and his beguiling retellings will draw you back into a world that has long cast a spell on the Western imagination.

I was excited and I started reading it right away.

There was just one small problem.  I found it hard to read 50 fairy tales straight through like it was a novel.  I found myself reading a couple at night before bed, slowly making my way through the collection. So it took me some time to finish.  And of course, then I had to come up with something interesting to say about the volume … So here we find ourselves discussing the book months after it came out. How gauche, right? Sarcasm aside, the publisher probably would have preferred a quicker response but better late than never.

Nevertheless, if you are as fascinated by fairy tales as I am this is a must read. Pullman provides a wonderful collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with a straightforward and clean style. Plus, he adds some interesting and whimsical comments at the end of each story.

Continue reading

The Girl Who Dreamed Only Geese by Howard Norman

Howard Norman is an author I have enjoyed for some time. I knew his background in folklore but hadn’t really explored any of that part of his career.  But what I stumbled upon The Girl Who Dreamed Only Geese: And Other Tales of the Far North while on vacation this summer I knew that had to change.  A beautifully illustrated book of folklore by one of my favorite authors? Yes, please.

Publisher blurb:

Based on decades of research and extended collaboration with Inuit storytellers, award-winning author Howard Norman’s masterful retellings of ten Inuit tales invite readers on a unique story–journey from Siberia and Alaska to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. Dramatic illustrations inspired by stonecut art of the Inuit people capture the beauty and mystery of these stories as they carry us–sometimes laughing, sometimes crying–from village to village over taiga, tundra, snow plains, and the iceberg-filled sea.

This book is exactly what I thought it would be when I stumbled upon it: wonderful, evocative stories from the Far North with gorgeous illustrations that make it that more fun to read.

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