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The Uncertain Places

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  567 ratings  ·  108 reviews

An ages-old family secret breaches the boundaries between reality and magic in this fresh retelling of a classic fairy tale. When Berkeley student Will Taylor is introduced to the mysterious Feierabend sisters, he quickly falls for enigmatic Livvy, a chemistry major and accomplished chef. But Livvy's family—vivacious actress Maddie, family historian Rose, and their mother

Paperback, 237 pages
Published June 15th 2011 by Tachyon Publications (first published January 1st 2011)
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3.32  · 
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 ·  567 ratings  ·  108 reviews

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Actual rating: 3.5 stars

The intersection of our “real” world with the Land of Fairy seems to be a popular subject of fiction in recent years. I have become a fan of such books and found this one quite good. Set in the 1970s, it follows two young men who have become romantically involved with two sisters. The girls’ family seems to have something strange going on, and Will Taylor is determined to figure out the mystery.

That goal turns out to not be as easy as it seems—can a modern guy believe in
Ben Babcock
Urban tales of grimdark faeries really appeal to me for whatever reason. I think it has something to do with the juxtaposition of modern sensibilities and skepticism with the sheer brutality of fae logic and deal-making. The Uncertain Places certainly creates the right atmosphere. Lisa Goldstein’s storytelling reminds me, in ways of Charles de Lint’s approach to mixing our world with the fantastic. However, I found the plot a little convoluted and the main characters uninteresting at best and te ...more
Deborah Ross
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read through the glowing reviews and thought, "What can I add to what Peter S. Beagle, Charles de Lint, Ursula K. Le Guin, Patricia name a few, have said?" Okay, here's my take: This is contemporary fantasy of the sort that revolves around the intersection of the ordinary world and Faerie. That in itself is pretty ho-hum. It's all too easy to create fae/fairies/elves who are humans with pointy ears and magical powers. Very pretty humans, but still humans. That said, Goldstein is ...more
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Will Taylor meets a family with inexplicable good luck and falls in love with the middle sister, Livvy. But just as their romance is going well, she falls into a strange deep sleep. Her family accepts it as perfectly normal and expected, but Will refuses to, and eventually figures out a way to charge into fairyland and save her from her bondage there. Years go by, and then their son is struck by the same affliction, and once again Will and Livvy must enter fairyland in hopes of freeing their lov ...more
Megan Baxter
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
When it comes to The Uncertain Places, it doesn't quite have the rhythm of a fairy tale, but it does do extremely interesting and provocative things with fairy tale ideas and imagery. It's a strong contender in this mini-genre, for several reasons. Firstly, Goldstein has a real feel for the capricious, and her fairies are not warm, fuzzy, or beautiful. They are other, and stay other, and the humans who walk in their world are not always smarter or more cunning than creatures who have been alive ...more
A weak beginning had me questioning my choice to read this book. Some of the dialogue on the first few pages made me cringe inwardly, and a few of the metaphors (like a car "arguing" with a gravel driveway) felt forced, as if they were trying too hard to be quirky (this word makes me want to barf) and funny. Fortunately, things improved shortly. There were chapters I found hard to put down, though as you've probably already guessed from this sentence, that wasn't the case with all the chapters. ...more
Atriel Hudson
Jul 27, 2011 rated it did not like it
I initially had high hopes for this book. The premise, interesting and exciting. So exciting that I scoured the internet looking for a copy when my local bookshop didn't have it. The execution was, sadly, awful.

The characters were one dimensional and uninteresting. You would think that a family torn apart by a fairy curse would be heart wrenching. And a man willing to do anything to wake his lady love would be heartwarming. I hated just about every character in this book from the mother driven
I feel like this book started out strong and then in the second half it got messy and kind of ridiculous. I liked the initial mystery surrounding the Feierabend family, but I think the source of the mystery was revealed too soon and lost some of its appeal. Also, the romance between Livvy and Will really isn't shown to the reader much at all; since this isn't a romance, that's okay, but the fact of the matter is that Livvy's wellbeing is Will's primary motivation for a good chunk of the book, wh ...more
Aug 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
This fairy-tale inspired novel begins in 1971, when a friend introduces Berkeley student Will to lovely Livvy and the Feierebrand family of three sisters and a mother. The novel starts wonderfully, with a partly creepy, partly enticing description of the family's rambling, architecturally jumbled house in the hills of Napa Valley. The family is sort of spacey and odd, but charming and clearly affluent. Will falls for Livvy, despite the secrets that seem to be kept that have to do with the family ...more
Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Zedsdead by: Britain Paige
A 1971 Berkeley student starts dating a girl from a very old family, and has to deal with a fairy tale curse/blessing that has followed them for centuries. There are consequences to bargaining with fairy-types.

One aspect of the book that I particularly enjoyed was the protagonist's changing perspective as he got older. As a youth he charges around trying to fix things and he scorns the older family members for their apparent hesitance and seeming apathy. Later, his responsibilities grow and he s
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
"A long time ago there lived a poor woodsman. One day he was walking in the forest when a man came out of the trees and hailed him. 'Good day,' the man said. 'And how are you doing today?'

"'Very poorly,' the woodsman said. 'My family and I have not eaten for three days, and if I do not find food for them soon I fear we will all die.'

"'I can help you,' the main said. 'But you must promise to give me the first thing you see when you return home today.'"

All long-time readers of fairy tales are fa
Jun 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
(4.5 stars) The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein is the story of a family haunted by a long-ago pact with the fairies. Like all fairy tales, it’s also a story about human problems, so it’s easy to find yourself within these pages even if mysterious beings have never cleaned your house in the middle of the night.

In 1971, Berkeley students Will and Ben go to visit the eccentric Feierabend family who live in a rambling house in Napa Valley. Ben is dating the eldest Feierabend sister, Maddie, and
Apr 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
To begin, I must say that I don't have anything terribly bad to say about the book. Ms. Goldstein's prose is well-crafted and clear, reading it is not a slog.

The problem is that this is a story that has been told before, many, many times, and Ms. Goldstein brings nothing new to it. There is a certain irony in this, given the musings in the finale regarding the state of the world. Here we have another white, middle-class, heterosexual, cis-gendered man coming in to save the family of women, who
Laura de Leon
Apr 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this modern fairy tale. It was evidently built on a story I didn't know, with aspects of the stories I've heard since childhood.

The Uncertain Places introduced a magical world with links to our own, with the sort of magic that exists in fairy tales. I enjoyed seeing the ins and outs of how it worked.

It was fun to speculate on the nature of the secrets of the Feierabend family, as Will (and the reader) discovered more about the mysterious happenings in and around their house, and around
Jul 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Uncertain Places is a story about fairy tales, but also a complex narrative which invites the reader to question understanding of greed and personal internal motivations. I enjoyed the book and found the story refreshing in many ways, but I kept questioning some of the author's literary tools (such as narratives within narratives). I frequently felt that this would be a more vivid story having been told by Neil Gaiman, especially the third and final act. But Gaiman's writings -- while excell ...more
Caroline Bartels
May 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Ah, this one's a keeper...really good magical realism that has you all nervous and concerned about whether Those People from the other realm are going to win the bargain. It's got all of this good Grimm Brothers fairy tale stuff going on. I could see this one being considered for the Alex Award. Teens will get into this adult fantasy!
Jan 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
The fantasy element is vivid and occasionally gave me an enjoyably eerie feeling, but the characters were too flat. I never really believed the connection between the main character and Livvy, or between them and Nick.
Scott Frank
Dec 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Certainly a fine enough read, though not on the top-tier of Goldstein's works. Some of her books are absolutely astonishing; this one is a fine enough take on the "crazy family with faerie connection" genre; think of it as a shorter, more coherant (but also simpler) version of John Crowley's "Little, Big." Seriously, Goldstein is an extremely good writer, so I would never think she copied that book intentionally, but the similarities are kind of nutty - large, rambling country house, a man broug ...more
Laura Wood
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
The description says this is a retelling of a classic fairy tale, but not any of the classics I know. It has a similar style as a fairy tale retelling in that it takes place in both our know reality and the magical world of fairy tales. But the tale it's based on is a new one, something that according to this story was left out of the Grimm's brothers' tales. Overall, a very fun and engaging book!
Dee Mills
Good story

I enjoyed this fantasy. It was well-written and drew me in immediately. The descriptions were imaginative, especially of the other realm.
Deb Oestreicher
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fun read that takes place where our world meets the world of Faerie. As sometimes happens with Lisa Goldstein's work, the narrator is not that likable, but the story is compelling and even thought-provoking.
Shellie (Layers of Thought)
Original review posted at Layers of Thought.

“…he thought they only showed themselves in what he called the uncertain places. Where the sea meets the land, for example… or inside meets outside… or at dawn or twilight…” page 171

About: Set in early 1970’s California within the now famous wine growing region of Napa Valley, our narrator Will is studying for his degree at UC Berkley when he meets Livie, one of the Feirbrand girls. It’s almost “love at first sight”. However, Will notices something odd
Oct 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
this is the second book that i've read by lisa goldstein, the first being dark cities underground. i'd compare it more with pamela dean's tam lin than that book, though. (i'd compare dark cities underground with neil gaiman's neverwhere for location, though not tone--i think that fantasies that take place in part in subway systems are getting to be a sub-genre.)

will is our narrator and protagonist. he's attending berkley in the 1970s. his roommate, ben, takes him to his girlfriend, maddie's, fam
Nov 07, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bp-book-club, fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
This is the book I finished reading today for my Sci-Fi Fantasy Book Club meeting tomorrow night (June 11th, 2013). We should have an interesting discussion about this novel, which deals with the veil between the seen and the not-quite-seen, between the present world and the world of Fairie. I enjoyed reading this book, and will give it four stars, as the writing is a bit uneven in my opinion.

It is 1971 in San Francisco, and 19-year-old Berkeley psychology student Will Taylor goes with his best
K. Lincoln
Aug 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
A reviewer of Graham Joyce's "Some Kind of Fairy Tale" mentioned this book as a better version of "person kidnapped by fairies with consequences in the real world" So I had to read it.

Uncertain Places definitely fits the genre. A Berkeley undergrad, Will, goes with his buddy to visit the buddy's girlfriend's house in Napa, meets her sister, and falls in love.

Only the mother is slightly vague, and the sisters possessed of a mischievous and devil-may-care air unlike anyone else. Around the sisters
Aug 07, 2016 rated it did not like it
There were some interesting ideas in here, but this was just poorly written. I have a number of different issues, so let's talk about them one at a time.

Narrator framing - why have the book framed around a journal entry? It didn't end up mattering to the story, so what was the point? Furthermore, it made the book a lot more awkward when the narrator then had to relate the story of what happened to a character "off screen". Essentially they meet up with the narrator and we get these little info d
Jun 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's difficult to find a theme that has not been used by another author. Take a theme and rework it into a different novel and make it your own. Goldstein does a remarkable job of doing just that. The theme is that of the bondmaid discovered long ago by the Brothers Grimm. So what's it about?

There is an unlikely hero, Will Taylor, Berkeley student, who falls in love with Livvy, a chemistry major who revels in preparing good food because of it. Livvy is but one of three intriguing and unusual wo
May 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fairytale
No spoilers: The story itself was brilliant. It was very "old school" in its treatment of fairytales (more dark and sinister, less Disney princess romance). Reading it inspired me to look more closely into the original Grimm tales and I was really surprised to discover that the Grimms themselves were very active in censoring the tales. I had assumed that the censorship did not begin until much later, but as they discuss in The Uncertain Places it was the Grimms who changed the wicked mothers int ...more
Apr 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
I liked this much, much better than "Tender Morsels". I liked the atmosphere, the framing (it's told retrospectively by a middle-aged man), the setting (the 70s, California), the fairy tales bound by fae rules. This book felt fleshed-out to me.

I won't spoil anything, but this is a man telling the tale of his college romance, and the strange reclusive family his girlfriend belongs to. It's lovely to come across a book where two different worlds have been side-by-side for so long, and when the you
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Uncertain Places not available on kindle? 2 5 Mar 14, 2012 11:28PM  

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Aka Isabel Glass.

Lisa Goldstein (b. November 21, 1953 in Los Angeles) is a Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Award nominated fantasy and science fiction writer. Her 1982 novel The Red Magician won the American Book Award for best paperback novel, and was praised by Philip K. Dick shortly before his death. Goldstein writes science fiction and fantasy; her two novels Daughter of Exile and The Divided
“Nick turned out to be a shy boy, uncertain in groups and in new situations, but also very brave, determined to overcome his fear." - Will, as a parent describing his son” 1 likes
“Will and I are thinking about writing a movie," Ben said. "It's called Theater Closed for Repairs.” 1 likes
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