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The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  5,679 ratings  ·  1,080 reviews
From Daniel M. Lavery comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from his beloved "Children's Stories Made Horrific" series, The Merry Spinster takes up the trademark wit that endeared Lavery to readers of both The Toast and his best-selling debut Texts from Jane Eyre. The feature become among the most popular on the site, with e ...more
Paperback, 190 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Holt Paperbacks
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Nif In some interviews he talked about separating familial and societal roles from gender--a person who is expected to fulfill all the roles of a daughter…moreIn some interviews he talked about separating familial and societal roles from gender--a person who is expected to fulfill all the roles of a daughter in whatever world the story is set in might not necessarily be a "she," etc.(less)
tinabel The author helpfully listed their sources and influences at the back of the book. For "The Wedding Party":

"The Goose-Girl" by the Grimms
"The Earl of M…more
The author helpfully listed their sources and influences at the back of the book. For "The Wedding Party":

"The Goose-Girl" by the Grimms
"The Earl of Mar's Daughter," a child's ballad
"The Daemon Lover," a Scottish ballad


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Emily May
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
There are two really great stories here, a couple of okay ones, many pages of beautiful/whimsical/amusing writing, several interesting ideas, and a whole lot of codswallop. Let's call it a 2.5.

As with many other short story collections, like Machado's Her Body and Other Parties, The Merry Spinster is a mixed bag. With this one, though, I'm leaning more towards declaring it a negative reading experience. There were just too many nonsensical things, too many abrupt and weird endings, too many stor
"Had my own brothers lived," the king said, "they should certainly have tried to harm our own children and stifle our peace." His own brothers, however, had not lived. It was an important task of kingship, determining when brothers and sons were no longer necessary.

I was really looking forward to this collection of fairy tale retellings, but it proved to be a something of a let down. Ortberg's versions are somber and bleak, but really no darker than the original stories. Perhaps going grimmer w
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
I read the first few, skimmed the rest. I don't get any of it. Seems written by a writer who luxuriates in her own overblown cleverness.

I don't mean to be unnecessarily cruel in my review, and the writing itself is superb. That is, how one word meets the next; how metaphors fly out like gnats, biting and surprising you; how carefully each story is composed; and even, how repetition of phrases create a sort of innate rhythm to each tale. Yep, this writer can write.

But the stories are obtuse, stra
4 Stars!

I loved these!

Hilarious and disturbing retellings of your childhood favorites. Sharp, insightful and feminist, they may ruin forever the way you look at these stories.

Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of the book.
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018
Oh Mallory, oh Daniel Mallory, oh my goodness gracious how I adore you.

This book tho... I don't know. It is incredibly well done, but that is not at all the same as saying I enjoyed it.

Each tale starts out familiar, like a song you love redone in a minor key — the mermaid who trades her voice for legs, the king who banishes his sons, the put-upon stepsister who goes to live with a beast-creature — but quickly they twist and wrench. Each unfurls with a sickly sweet beauty and a pitch-perfect fa
I love the word ‘spinster’ – the word itself, not the meaning. It sounds like ‘hipster’, it’s a great name for a DJ.

“Tales of Everyday Horror”? Not a great tagline, these are dark retellings of fairytales and children’s stories, not ‘everyday’ situations. There is not much that’s ‘everyday’ about a mermaid trying to snag a prince, or a murderous velveteen rabbit.

Title aside, I mostly enjoyed this collection. The best stories are frontloaded, so it kind of wears out its welcome by the end, but it
Tori (InToriLex)
Find this and other Reviews at In Tori Lex
Actual Rating 2.5

You should be a fan of the Grimm' Fairy Tales, in order to appreciate these short stories. I am really familiar with Disney's feel good fairy tales but didn't feel familiar enough with the source material to appreciate the adaptions. These horrific short stories pay homage to their original sources while adding elements of horror and surprise. The characters don't behave according to established gender norms although most of the stories
Sara Saif
May 21, 2018 rated it it was ok

I'm officially tired of reading retelling anthologies. They get odder and weirder and more befuddling with each story and by the time I'm done I feel like banging my head against a wall.

I understand that part of it has to do with the fact that I have no ducking clue about the original stories themselves, most of the stories the writers pick to retell are not the usual disney ones. But then, how the heck am I supposed to get what part was retold and how cleverly it was done? A short summary of th

Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Received an ARC for free blah blah whatever disclosure.

These stories are weird and queer and horrifying and are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but if you like Mallory’s writing especially her “children’s stories made horrifying” you won’t be disappointed. Also The Rabbit is going to haunt me forever.
Lady H
Jan 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2019
Oh my God, this was terrible. Awful. Horrendous. Never before in my life have I read something so utterly pointless. These are not short stories. These are not even complete thoughts. They're just pointless anecdotes that aren't interesting and don't mean anything at all. And they're boring.

Maybe three stories in this ("The Rabbit", "Six Boy Coffins", and "Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters"), were readable and had some semblance of plot (thought they were not satisfying plots).

Others, such as "Th
Charlie Anders
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I blurbed this book, so just to add to what I already said ---- this is really something special, even after the other fairytale retellings I've read lately. I wasn't really prepared for quite how creepy and intense, and endleslsy inventive, this book is. Unsettling and powerful, and it'll totally make you look at the stories that formed us in a whole new way. ...more
Tiff (fictionaltiff)
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mallory Ortberg, author of Texts From Jane Eyre, has created another wonderfully unique book. This compilation of short stories retelling a variety of everyone's most beloved fairy and folk tales is not one the reader will soon forget.

The main reason I would love a hard copy of this book and perceive it as a valuable read is I like that this book changes my perspective on classic stories. I will never think of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and the other classic stories t
I'm sad to say I was very disappointed by this. Fairytale retellings are difficult, because they've just been done so many times before (Atwood, Carter, Donoghue, Gaiman...); still, I sort of hoped that if anyone could pull them off, it would be Ortberg, whose humorous writings and sharp takes on literature have always amused me a great deal. He does get in some very funny lines here and there in this collection, but overall, the ideas just didn't seem that creative or new. The writing felt rath ...more
Krista Regester
Feb 06, 2020 rated it liked it
As a lover of short stories and horror I was anticipating becoming obsessed, but it doesn't quite hit the mark. All of the stories are focused on some sort of retelling (there is a helpful list at the end for comparison) with a 'clever' twist. My favorite is The Six Boy-Coffins, which has more going for it if you're looking to like a single character, as well as being unique. ...more
The first story in this collection was fine, but it didn't really grab me. I also have a feeling that Ortberg's clever-for-the-sake-of-being-clever style would grate on me if I read more than one story at a time. This is due back at the library soon anyway, so bail! ...more
M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews
This collection was hit and miss to me. Some of the stories had fantastic insight and twists with the fairy tales they borrowed from. Personally, I think the winners were the stories based off the Little Mermaid, the Velveteen Rabbit, the one about the mother whose son marries a mermaid, and the Swan Brothers. The other ones though didn't work out as well because the motivations were flat/not explained, such as Beauty and the Beast (really hated this one) and the Goose-Girl. I get that the autho ...more
BAM Endlessly Booked
Netgalley #56

Many thanks go to Mallory Ortberg, Holt Paperback, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

I admit it. I have a soft spot for fairy tale retellings. Ortberg was definitely original here. She melded two or more tales, nursery rhymes, prayers, and ballads to create one-of-a-kind stories with a cynical twist. If anyone has difficulty identifying what's being used, there is a table at the end. I think my favorite was "The Wedding Party", which re
1- The Daughter Cells: (4.5/5) A little mermaid retelling, it gave me chills. The way the little mermaid was "naive" was both chilling and realistic (in the story).

2- The Thankless Child (3/5): A weird Cinderella iteration but the ending was quite strange and... abrupt almost? Also the gender identifications and names and pronouns are really weird in this story.

3- Fear Not: An Incident Log (4.5/5): I kept thinking what fairytale or story this would be the iteration for but I gave up. Anyhow, I
Jessica Woodbury
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you already know Ortberg, you know what you're getting into with this collection and it will be even more delightful than you expect.

If you don't already know Ortberg, well, this is a book that's going to defy your expectations at every turn. It tweaks tropes and genders and just about everything else over and over again, slowly lulling you into a glorious openness.
I am an unapologetic (Daniel*) Mallory Ortberg fangirl. I've followed his work since the Toast, was overcome with glee when he took over Dear Prudence and basically think he can do no wrong. I also love faerie tales and hate short stories, so that's pretty much the context for where I'm coming from.

Ortberg is a master of language and it shines here. His wit is subtle, but biting, and each story quickly comes into focus with a clear tone and setting, in a way that many short stories authors strug
May 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
There are two stories I liked, some so-so ones, and the rest I won't remember tomorrow.

This book was a hodgepodge. I spent several stories trying to figure out what fairy tale they were supposed to represent and failed. Many of the stories had abrupt or disappointing endings and pointless. I thought that many of the stories were building toward something but then they didn't.

The stories I liked best were "The Daughter Cells" and "Six Boy Coffins." The Daughter Cells started off the book on a gr
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
I am definitely not the right audience for this book. I read this on easy mode, skipping two stories that were mostly about animals (and I should have skipped the third, but I didn’t realize in time), and the book still left me feeling slimed and poked in bruised places. It’s just grim, unrelentingly grim, unrelentingly saying, “Hey, did you know there are awful things in the world? There are! And they are so very, very awful.” Many of the stories cover the same (grim) territory, and some of the ...more
Sarah Marie
The Merry Spinster: Tales for Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

3.75 stars

Mallory Ortberg’s short story collection focuses on the fairy tales of the past or beloved children stories and twists them into horrifying and shocking heights. I will admit not all the stories in this collection are perfect, but I can’t remember the last time I read so many 5-star short stories in a collection. Ortberg is skilled at telling the story in a way familiar to the reader and then leaving the story with a mouth

Oct 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy-scifi
This review originally appeared on the book review blog: Just One More Pa(i)ge.

I am a huge fan of a retelling. So, seeing this collection of retellings of fairy tales, folk tales and other well-known/traditional stories available for request on NetGalley had me super interested. Needless to say, I was psyched when I got chosen and sent the ARC. I was a little nervous starting to read, because “everyday horror” could mean a lot of things (I totally overlooked that subtitle when originally reques
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thanks to Disney's whimsical remakes of capital "R" Romantic folklore, my only childhood exposure to fairytales was cheerful princesses singing their way to happy endings surrounded by industrious animal friends. But we're all adults here. I think by now, we all know these are just sugar-coated versions of some pretty gnarly source material.

The Merry Spinster meets us somewhere in the middle with 11 twisted versions of well known fables and fairy tales that are somehow as playful as they are sin
Conor Ahern
I love Mallory Ortberg. I even love apples, but his "Apples Are Bullshit" article from The Toast is one of my favorite articles of all time. It's just so well written. Mmmm.

This is also well written. But I didn't really get this book. I guess it's a take on some fairytales. I must not know them as well as I think I do; or maybe I do, and just didn't find these to be very interesting or clever takes on said fairytales.

Either way, I bet DMO is one of the coolest people to hang out with. I just don
Caro the Helmet Lady
DNF with no rating. "It's not you, it's me" situation. Nothing is much wrong with this book I guess, but after the first chapter I found that writing was annoying me a bit and I wasn't in the mood for annoyances at the moment. ...more
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley

This was a really great book of fairytale retellings. I like how she often took inspiration from more than one story at a time [all the source stories are listed at the end of the book] instead of just doing a straight retelling but with dark elements added. It definitely helped keep my interest because I didn't always know where the story was going, which I find is the problem with a lot of fairytale retellings these days. These are definitely d
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“Daughters are as good a thing as any…” begins The Merry Spinster by Danny Ortberg’s wild reimagining of the Little Mermaid that ends in such grim fashion as to make the reader nod solemnly and intone, “truly, these are the end of times.” And yet, what a romp of a dark timeline. (visit for the rest) ...more
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
Enjoyed this a lot more than I anticipated, these are fairy tale re-tellings, but slightly dark and twisted. I don't think any really pushed through to full on horror, which was fine by me, I liked the creepy level.

There is also an interesting element in several of the stories, where gender versus social role is upturned a bit. This is never really explained, but it's made somewhat clear in the first to use this, a Cinderella based story, when the step sisters are discussing whether they will b
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