Perhaps the reason I've an affinity for dark & twisted art lies with a trio of books I read as a child. Alvin Schwartz is most known for his collePerhaps the reason I've an affinity for dark & twisted art lies with a trio of books I read as a child. Alvin Schwartz is most known for his collection of folktales marketed towards children. His most famous books--Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones--were some of my most favorite reads as a lad, and when I recently happened upon my personal copy of SS3, I couldn't help but dive in. I went to the library and checked out the first two volumes (not sure why I only have the third?), then promptly drove home and leafed through the pages.
It's impossible to continue without acknowledging Stephen Gammell's defining artwork. In fact, I'm going out on a limb and saying that it's Gammell's work that makes this collection so cherished (and challenged*, for that matter). I love the loose, spindly, flowy lines that add an ethereal feel to each work. Everything has the tone of something horrific waiting to be loosed upon your mind. I would love to see Gammell do some Lovecraftian illustrations. Yes, it is Gammell's work that shines in these books, and they've no doubt affected my subconscious.
Allow me to wax on here. The illustrations are grotesque. Magnetic, whereby they repulse the reader, but attract as well. I feel as if Gammell has somehow captured the essence of a nightmare (or some hell) and then rendered it on us, and, in particular, young minds. Frankly I'm surprised these books are read by kids, as I can easily see them getting utterly creeped out and running for Mommy in the dead hours after midnight. Moreover, as I was rocking Avonlea to sleep the other night, I was reading the books and left them beside her crib after she went to sleep. Keisha brought them to me later as I was brushing my teeth and said, "You can't leave those in there. If I look over there and see 'em in the middle of the night I'd be freaked out."
I guess I would, too. I have this fleeting fear whenever I wake up during the night. With the thick shadows and eerie softglow lights, coupled with the fact that I'm not wearing my spectacles, everything is blurred and skewed. My mind deceives me. My eyes tell untruths and distortions. I see monsters and things unknown in the darkness, sinister and evil, things that would fit perfectly alongside these horrors Gammell's illustrated.
Still, there is more to these books than just the art. Schwartz writes in an easy to understand form, especially for children. To my understanding, the intention is for these things to be read aloud, and working with that assumption, these stories all do well. However, if one looks too closely as the sentences, well, one gets disappointed in the simplicity. It's anticlimactic at times, coming across as uninspired and flat out boring. This is not prevalent, nor is it epidemic, but the way these stories are told is very weak when compared with other folktales. (This seems fickle, as I'm comparing a children's book to adult, scholarly things, but what can I say?) Nevertheless, I did feel like Schwartz dropped the ball several times throughout these three books, but if you're reading them aloud, it's not too bad.
If we look at the folktales and urban legends themselves, then these three books are a treasure chest of them. Each tale spans from 1-3 pages (most falling at just over a page) in length, and because of that, there are a multitude of stories. Many are familiar things, things we all know, things our grandparents swear are true. But there are more than enough unfamiliar ones, too. And to me, digesting a "new" folktale, especially one that's been around for years, is like cream cheese icing on a carrot cake. Delicious.
I appreciate Schwartz listing a bibliography at the end of each book, as it's nice to be able to dig deeper (or see different tellings) for a story. When things are from oral tradition, Schwartz lists people involved, too, or areas he collected from. I also like how there are "alternate endings" or miscellany for the stories listed.
These three books are delightful little reads. There's no doubt that they're heavily responsible for my taking to folktales, as I read these books for the first time in elementary school, but they're also probably responsible for my weakness for dark art. I'm glad to have stumbled on my copy of SS3 the other day, and even more glad to find the library's copies were in the stacks and not checked out. Halloween is the perfect time to read these books, and the RIP challenge just makes it more pleasant. If you've never read the stories Schwartz tells, then you're missing out. But even more, if you've not had your heart stopped by Stephen Gammell's horrid illustrations, you're really missing out. I strongly recommend remedying this as soon as humanly possible.
----- *Not only was this series the most challenged during the 1990s, it was also the 7th most challenged between 2000-2009. I'm assuming ...more
The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of seven short stories, written by Susanna Clarke. Clarke is the author of one of my favorite books, JonathaThe Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of seven short stories, written by Susanna Clarke. Clarke is the author of one of my favorite books, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (reviewed here). She is a very clever writer, writing in the style of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, and her words are always a delight to read. This anthology features fairy tales, but not in the traditional setting.
"The Ladies of Grace Adieu" is the title story from this collection. Its characters are, on the surface, three simple ladies of the times, that is to say that they're quiet, subservient, obedient, perfect in their manners, ignorant, and occasionally witty, but never clever. No, it is unseemly for a lady to do magic. Why, heaven forbid a woman should learn!
This story was short and featured a cameo by Jonathan Strange and his lovely wife, Arabella. They take a trip to Grace Adieu, where a few odd things happen. This piece was filled with humorous jabs at the old culture, and it indeed was fun to see Strange again.
"On Lickerish Hill" is told in an amusing, but sometimes confusing, Suffolk dialect. I had to read it a bit slower to fully understand what was going on, but in the end the tale was very much like a classic folk tale of fairy mischief. This was my least favorite story in the collection, probably because the dialect was rather difficult to read and get into.
"Mrs Mabb" is the story about love. Venetia, a lonely girl who's one true love, Captain Fox, is heartbroken and angry. Fox was bewitched by that wretched but beautiful Mrs Mabb. Venetia tries to locate Mabb's residence and win her betrothed back, but she always receives different directions to the house. Whenever she does attempt to find the house, peculiar things always befall her.
This story kept me reading until the end. I was quite captivated to discover the truth behind Mrs Mabb and see what would become of Venetia’s and Captain Fox’s love.
"The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" is a short tale, but still entertaining. The magic is simple and pleasant.
"Mr Simonelli or the Fairy Widower" was the second longest story in the book, but very intriguing. The tale is about the scholarly Mr Simonelli, who has just become the Rector of Allhope house. There he finds five beautiful young women, a strange but likeable neighbor, a small salary, and some dangerous mystery. This tale is told through journal entries, and I really liked it very much. Quite whimsical, I daresay. Quite.
"Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby" is the longest tale in this collection, coming in at 43 pages. This story was delightful. It had me laughing; it had me speculating; it had me in its grip. This tale relates a peculiar incident between the Jewish physician, David Montefiore, and his fairy friend, Tom Brightwind. It read exactly like a footnote from JS&MN, and I loved it.
"Antickes and Frets" is a story about Mary, Queen of Scots. The story is about Mary being held captive by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. She attempts to find ways to enact revenge, but things rarely go as planned. This tale was entertaining and had me laughing a few times at some of the Queen of Scots actions.
The last story, "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner" is another short one, but definitely my favorite from the whole lot. Absolutely hysterical, plus a good bit of English magic involved, too. The Cumbrian charcoal burner lives alone in the woods with his pet pig, Blakeman. One day he's interrupted by a hunting party, who tears up his wood and runs away. One hunter stays behind, and vengeance plus hilarity ensues. This story also is great for anyone that wants to read a little more about the mysterious John Uskglass (you’ll know him from JS&MN).
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It fit right in line with the writing style and plot devices of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and I loved it. If you've got a hankering to read some old Faerie mischief tales, then I easily recommend you pick up The Ladies of Grace Adieu. It is no sequel at all to Clarke's debut novel, and in fact only one or two stories feature any familiar characters. And, once again, if you've not read JS&MN, you should add the book to your TBR list immediately....more
I keep thinking about this book. It's one of those books that I've felt the pull to immediately reread upon completion. McCarthy's language is masterfI keep thinking about this book. It's one of those books that I've felt the pull to immediately reread upon completion. McCarthy's language is masterful as he tells the story of the Kid who falls in with Glanton's Gang. A horrific look at mid-19th century America, and an even more horrifying look into the heart of humanity....more
Writing a review for The Wise Man's Fear, Book Two of Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle, is a difficult task for me. First, the book is 994 pageWriting a review for The Wise Man's Fear, Book Two of Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle, is a difficult task for me. First, the book is 994 pages in length and covers so many plot-lines that it's hard to create a manageable review. Second, there was considerable hype leading up to the release of the book, hype that I well bought into and dabbled with. Third is the fact that this is the middle volume of a trilogy and the story, in the long run, is still unread. Finally, and probably most importantly, is my bias towards Rothfuss. If not for his genre-crushing, decade favorite Name of the Wind, I may have given up on fantasy a few years ago. Instead, the man pulled the wool from my eyes and revealed that a story is more important than magic and cliches. That said, this review is spoiler-free for Book 2, though it will contain spoilers from Book 1.
----- Review (No WMF Spoilers) It's another day for Kvothe, his student/assistant Bast, and the acclaimed scribe Devan Lochees (aka the Chronicler) at the Waystone Inn. All more than a little burdened from the recent death of Shep and the unusual circumstances surrounding it, Kvothe is pressing on to tell the true story of the man behind the legends. Times are hard for Newarre and its poor farmers, but times are hard for everyone.
Rothfuss wastes no time getting into the meat of the story. By Chapter Three, Kvothe is recalling the familiar story that began in Name of the Wind. In fact, if physical evidence didn't say otherwise, the transition between Book One and Book Two is flawless enough that it feels like I'm reading one book, carrying over the same tone and voice the first one did so well.
If one considers The Wise Man's Fear on its own, problems arise. In its 994 pages a lot of stuff happens, and on the other hand, nothing happens. The reader gets plenty of insight to the Four Corners of Civilization, from language lessons in Ademre to lessons of the court in Severen, as well as more lore and history of all manner of folks between. There is enough world building that one would be tempted to say Rothfuss is wasting too much time with supplemental information, putting off the more important elements of the story. And, if one considers WMF on its own apart from the trilogy as a whole, I would agree.
There is not enough action and the story is not tight enough for this book to fit the normal molds and expectations readers have. But, just as Rothfuss is not interested in telling a normal story with normal cliches, this book rises above the normal expectations. I cannot see how anyone can take a single volume of a story instead of the whole and weigh it and judge it, not fairly, but it happens. For myself, taking everything I learned in NotW and adding it to WMF, I see one beautiful tale, written in prose and verse sweet enough to charm anyone interested in a good story.
And that's what Wise Man's Fear is. Better, even, than "good." It's complex, elegant, hilarious, devastating, tense, dark, mysterious, and many more adjectives. It's not a book that stands on its own, but its the middle piece to a three-piece puzzle. The story is the most important thing, and Rothfuss is spinning a wonderful yarn.
All of this is not to say that I didn't have problems with WMF. Do I feel like there was a lot of extraneous stuff? Maybe, but is that necessarily a bad thing? How often do we fall in love with things (book series, tv shows, video games, etc.) and wish we had more? We long for special features and extended scenes. Why else would there be a Saw VI and two video games to boot? Could plenty of this stuff have been edited out and the story still be the same? Yes. But did I enjoy it all? Absolutely.
I'm willing to wade through lots of boring stuff if the story's good, and Rothfuss's extra scenes are not boring. In the end, what I can say about Wise Man's Fear is that its long, and if you get frustrated at a story that likes to simmer and slow-boil instead of splash out on the stove, then you may be irked, but you'll be entertained, as well. If you liked The Name of the Wind you'll like this book. I know I did.
(If you would like to read a more in-depth analysis, as well as some specific things I liked from the book, click here to go to my blog's review.)...more
*The fourth time I've read through this book and I still love it. Kvothe is still a compelling character. The plot is paced to my happiness. The side*The fourth time I've read through this book and I still love it. Kvothe is still a compelling character. The plot is paced to my happiness. The side characters are complex rather than flat. The world is rich and deep.
Sure, Kvothe is a bit more condescending that I remember. "If you've never.... then I doubt you'll understand..." he says, too much for my liking, but forgivable enough.
Is the book perfect? No, but it's my favorite, and that's all that matters. If you've never read the seminal volume of The Kingkiller Chronicle, allow me a moment to recommend it.
This book is one of those books that's so good that I've bought numerous copies just to give out to friends and family. It's my go-to book when asked for recommendations. It's so good that I read it aloud to my wife. It's so good that I gave my mom a copy to read, and she's a very much non-genre reader. It's great. Truly, remarkably exceptionally great....more
The Lord of the Rings is arguably the most important work in fantasy. Tolkien's masterpiece is generally considered the foundation for so many aspectsThe Lord of the Rings is arguably the most important work in fantasy. Tolkien's masterpiece is generally considered the foundation for so many aspects of modern fantasy that it's beyond the scope of this reviewer to even consider. His works inspired countless carbon copies, some good, many terrible, but not a one as wonderful as The Lord of the Rings.
I first read The Fellowship of the Ring in 2000. I was graduating junior high and just discovering fantasy. A friend bought the entire trilogy, plus The Hobbit, and once he'd read them he loaned them to me. As an eighth grader, my understanding of the book was rudimentary at best, picking up on the obvious, but losing much of the beauty. I was concerned with The Quest, to see Frodo and Sam make it to Mt. Doom and destroy the Ring and free Middle Earth. The importance of the journey, though, I mostly missed out on. Now, years later, I've finally began re-reading the series.
I imagine nearly everyone knows what The Lord of the Rings is about, but for the sake of normalcy, I'll give a brief summation. In short, the Dark Lord Sauron is searching for his lost Ring of Power and a group of heroes is trying to destroy it before the Shadow can rise again. While this may sound trite, I offer that it is far from it, that Tolkien was deliberate in his story and that he was the originator* of the cliche.
As I mentioned before, I didn't fully enjoy the journey on my first read-through of The Fellowship of the Ring. This time, however, I relished in it. The quirky songs that seemed to erupt at any given time. The odd and ancient Tom Bombadil and his beautiful Goldberry. The dreams of Boromir for Gondor. The longing in Aragorn's voice. The mystery behind Gandalf. The omnipresent optimistic hobbits and their desire for food and comfort. And this only scratches the surface. While some say that Tolkien used too many words (do trees really deserve that much description?), I think that without the lengthy prose the tale would not be what it is.
Another thing I became fascinated with while re-reading this was the mythology of Middle Earth. Tolkien's worldbuilding is so enormous and vast that some colleges offer courses on it. He created many races, each with their own language or languages. Many had their own histories and legends as well, not to mention architecture style and culture. Tolkien was a renown philologist, and his creation of the many languages adds to the "reality" of Middle Earth. I loved hearing old Elven tales or Dwarven history. I even enjoyed the bits of hobbit history, though it was scarce.
It's impossible to not compare the book to Peter Jackson's superb 2002 movie. Some fans do not like the omissions the film makes, and to an extent I agree. Would I liked to have seen Tom Bombadil or Farmer Maggot? Could Lothlorien or Moria have been better done? Yes. But do I dislike the movie? A resounding no I say. I love it. I think Jackson did a heck of a job making his trilogy and it's atop my list of favorite films. Still, reading the books offers plenty of surprises and differences from the movies, and this re-read helped me see a few of the things I had forgotten.
There is absolutely nothing I dislike about The Fellowship of the Ring. The characters develop nicely through the plot, growing as they transform from rubes to world-weary travelers. There is a quote somewhere in the book about Middle Earth's history being filled with sad tales, and reading The Fellowship of the Ring certainly carries a heavy, tragic tone. Yet, through it all, there is a glimmer of hope, of defeating Sauron and destroying the Ring, and this chance keeps the reader glued to the pages.
If you've never read The Lord of the Rings, then I easily recommend you do so. Tolkien's command of the writing done masterfully, such that there are few dull moments in the book. The story is epic and genre-setting, as evidenced by nearly every run-of-the-mill fantasy book from 1955 until recently. You may think watching the movies are good enough, but I urge you to explore deeper into Tolkien's genius and see the wonderful world he has made.
------- *I realize Tolkien got his inspiration from surrounding myths, but that's beside the point....more