When I came across this one in my preparations for Fairy Tale Fortnight, I was immediately struck by the dark and direct tone of the cover, and took i...moreWhen I came across this one in my preparations for Fairy Tale Fortnight, I was immediately struck by the dark and direct tone of the cover, and took it as an indication of the tales found inside. In some ways this is what I got: the retellings are gritty and dark and very pared down, stripped of any residual fairy dust and ball gowns. Koertge plays on the original tales, in all their dark and twisted glory, but he also plays with our Disneyfied modern expectations.
But even though Koertge did sort of give me what I was expecting, it somehow managed to not be quite what I wanted. The book is very brief, tackling 23 different tales in less than 100 pages, including illustrations and title pages for each story. This means each story averages about 2 pages of well-spaced text or free-verse, and this means Koertge only has the space of a few blinks of the eye to make an impression with each story - blink and it's over...
I will say, I think Koertge certainly tried to create memorable, concrete images that would linger with the reader, plunging straight into the heart of each with a wry, jaded style. There's also a really good mix of well-known and little-known tales, and Koertge changes up the narration slightly in each tale. But even the narration at its most different (like Little Red's vapid prattling) still has a sameness to it. Some readers will appreciate this and feel the sardonic tone running throughout is the thread that holds it all together. Other readers - like myself - will feel that what the book really needs is a shake-up. The stories, different as they are originally, blend one into the next in Koertge's hands, and in the end, I would have been hard-pressed to tell you what happened in which, and how - if at all - the narrators differed.
There just weren't any stand-outs. Maybe it's because of my admitted immersion in fairy tales - maybe others who pick this up on a passing fancy, who don't read and breathe fairy tales, will find this fresh - but I felt like I'd seen it all before. This isn't necessarily bad on its own, because these are retellings, after all (so of course I've seen it before), but if you're going to put forth these "little gem" retellings, every effort needs to be made to make each and every one memorable in its own way. And when they're verse on top of that! well, every little bit of space matters. No word should be wasted; they should all serve a purpose. I know I hold things like this to a high standard, but there should be something, some turn of phrase or image or pleasing sound to the language itself that makes each story stand on its own. Instead, these felt (oh god, you have no idea how much it pains me to write this) amateurish. I cringe to write that, I really do, but the stories felt like writing prompts or Creative Writing 101 exercises. And in the end, whether because of their style or brevity, I quickly forgot them.
So maybe others won't feel this way, I don't know. Maybe people who don't eat, sleep and breathe fairy tales, and who haven't read a flipping shit-ton of short story retellings that take very similar tones and tacks to the ones in this book but do so better, will find this collection fresh and entertaining. At the very least, it's easily read in 1 sitting, so I would advise those who are considering picking it up to actually pick it up and flip through a few stories first - they're all pretty much the same, so if you like one, you'll probably like them all.
[And if instead you're looking for short fairy tale retellings with a variety of stories, styles, and twists, I cannot recommend enough the fairy tale anthology series edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. Especially Silver Birch, Blood Moon, which I adore.](less)
In Dreams Begin is such interesting for me, in concept and execution. Though I think there are a lot of people out there that are like "W B who?" and...moreIn Dreams Begin is such interesting for me, in concept and execution. Though I think there are a lot of people out there that are like "W B who?" and who would hate a storyline that bounces back and forth between past and present (and between different characters bodies), these things really attracted me to it. I'm not going to lie, I like me some poetry, Yeats included. And I also am a fan of stories that strive to recreate or even rewrite the life of a real person, not in a biographical way, but as a work of fictitious art. It fascinates me. I also like stories that shift back and forth, so long as I don't feel like it's a cheap device used to build suspense and keep me on edge in an otherwise laaame story (I'm talking to you, Dan Brown). Skyler White does it well. When the story shifts -- even frustratingly in the middle of something -- it feels natural and real, not gimmicky. I liked both worlds that were created, and I like who Laura is in both.
The romance, too, worked for me. Things come quick, and you know I'm normally not a fan of that, but in this, again, it felt right. It worked for the story and the fantastical aspects of it. All of this -- the time-shifting, the body-switching, the revolutionary ideals, all of it work together in this grand way to create a sense of destiny, in which case the romance between Laura and Yeats doesn't seem at all far-fetched: it seems fated. I feel a little differently about Ida, the little nutjob, and her 'romance' but the fact is, I liked her, too, and it worked on its own level. And there was sexytime. Boy, was there sexytime. Occasionally in crypts, but who's counting?
I talked a bit in my review for White's debut and Falling, Fly about her poetic style. There, it didn't always do the story justice, but here it almost always works very nicely. There are times when it's a little overwrought or confusing, but for the most part, White has a knack for phrasing something just so. Things will be going along as normal and then she'll describe something in a certain way, or say such and such of the characters, and it just kind of stops you in your tracks. You can see it. As strange a turn of phrase as it may be, you absolute
I do have similar warnings as I did in and Falling, Fly, though. This book is not for everybody. Because of the time- and body-switching, it probably could get very confusing for some people, and it definitely takes it out of the 'light read' category; you do have to pay attention. Also, the poetic prose will turn some off and confuse others, without a doubt. And of course, there is AFF's steamy test*. But all in all, I think In Dreams Begin is an improvement over AFF. White has found her niche and created something pretty compelling here. And she made me want to read about the real lives of Maud and Yeats. And that's saying something.
Review: When Ava loses her boyfriend Jackson in a horrible accident, she feels like her world is goi...moremeh... will revisit
[later:] still meh. Review to come.
Review: When Ava loses her boyfriend Jackson in a horrible accident, she feels like her world is going to end. She blames herself for his death, she shuts herself off from her friends and her life, and spends her time wishing she had Jackson back. And then, suddenly she does. Whenever she's alone, Jackson comes to her. He haunts her, speaking to her in her mind, touching her with cold ghostly caresses. Ava is so happy to have him back, but she knows it can't last; she has to make a decision: remain alone, with Jackson, or face the world again.
Lisa Schroeder writes in verse, so when I got my hands on this, I was kind of excited for that aspect. When done well (see Sharon Creech's Love That Dog or Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust) it can be very effective. The verse aspect builds an interesting story, layers some magic into the words. Unfortunately for this story, that wasn't the case. Rather than being an asset to the story, Schroeder's verse was distracting and forced. Though there were a few instances of the verse being what it should have been (a unique way of showcasing what Ava was feeling), most of the time it read like diary entries that were arranged funny. This is laziness and/or overconfidence, in my opinion. You can't just chop up lines or arrange them funny and call it verse. There has to be a real attention to language and words, to the way things sound and flow together. They should be read aloud and tweaked minutely again and again until they are precisely what they should be. Poetry should add something overall, its own unnameable something. It isn't just there because the form is non-traditional, you have to create it. I didn't feel Schroeder did an adequate job of creating it. Also, the titles for each "poem" just added to the feeling of it feeling really forced, and broke up the flow a bit for me.
Also, I found Ava to be a little crazy. I mean, I know she is really young, and as such won't always handle things the way she should, but when she starts to feel held back by Jackson's presence, when she is ready to move on with her life, she comes off really whiny and immature. I did like Jackson's role in this, and that she mistook his reason for haunting her, and I liked the healing process aspect, and even the mystery that Ava dances around in her poetic diary entries. But in the end, those things weren't enough for me, and I picked this book up twice and put it back down again before I got through it -- and it's something easily read in an hour or so. With a little more attention to the "poetic" aspect, or if that was discarded and it was treated as a diary instead, it could have worked a bit, and I would have liked it more, but as it was, I don't think I'll be reading more from Schroeder for awhile. But if you're interested in it still, grab it from the library -- it's not like it will take up a ton of your time, after all.
I reviewed this in full on my blog, but since it was a somewhat non-traditional review, I will include a snippet here. If you want the full thing, alo...moreI reviewed this in full on my blog, but since it was a somewhat non-traditional review, I will include a snippet here. If you want the full thing, along with some bonus material, head over here...
The "story" unfolds via a man's poetry journal. Intending to document the glory of life, it ends up recording the downfall of civilization as he: runs from zombies, is bitten by zombies, becomes a zombie, bites and creates more zombies, and embarks on the never-ending quest for fresh flesh and the all important zombie food source, brains.
Some of this anonymous man's poetry is only so-so (but what do you expect of a man who keeps a haiku poetry journal), and his pre-zombification haiku are as pretentious and pointless as you'd want them to be. But when said poet gets bitten, things take a turn for the worse -- while his haiku takes a visceral turn for the better, in my opinion. Dripping blood and pus and various other fluids onto the pages of his precious journal, he goes in search of the first of a slew of meals - -I mean, victims. (I'm not going to tell you who the first victim is, but ugh).
I previewed a few of the disgustingickyawesome haiku on a previous teaser tuesday, but they were just the, *ahem* tip of the juicy cortex. Though there are throwaway bits, there are some moments of gross brilliance in here. Our mysterious zombie man retains his vocabulary pretty much intact (which somehow doesn't seem ridiculous), but everything becomes a little stilted and skewed, creating a nicely eerie, Other effect. And of course, some of his phrasing, reactions and desires are just hilarious. (less)