The Woodcutter — Kate Danley

This is like,   ‘How many fairy tales and folkloric things can you fit into 346 pages and still manage to create a well structured story?’

From ‘Odin’ to ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ to ‘Baba Yaga’, and everyone in between, this is none stop from the first page to the last.   And somehow Kate has managed to make it all work in this wonderful story about a Woodcutter — who doesn’t actually cut wood.

If you like fairy tales, folklore, or are maybe looking for something different in a fantasy story, then i don’t think you’ll be disappointed with ‘The Woodcutter’.

My first Kate Danley book, it won’t be my last.

Kate’s Page

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The Bees — Laline Paull

Now that was quite a strange experience.

To begin, this is listed on Amazon as ‘Dystopian’ and ‘Dystopian Science Fiction’, it is neither of these.   How anyone can get to class the typical life cycle of a hive of a honey bee hive to fit either of those genres is utterly beyond my comprehension.

If i were to genre-ise this book then i would put it firmly in the children’s fantasy and children’s education section.   Why?   Because if you have a child who is getting to the age where you have to have that conversation about the birds and the bees, then i think this book would be a great way to broach the subject, both literally and metaphorically.   It pretty much covers everything there is concerning the life cycle of bees but presents it in an anthropomorphic way that i would consider appropriate for children learning about these things.

If i was home schooling a child then this book would definitely be getting read and explored a lot further.   If it was juxtaposed with a genuinely accurate text about the life cycle and habits of honey bees there would be a great deal to discuss with a learning child.   One could also take nature walks with a child to spot the various flowers and trees mentioned, maybe even visit a real bee hive.   I remember when i was a child my local museum had a beehive in a big glass case with the entrance through the back wall behind the case.   It was incredibly fascinating.

But as a book for adults alone, no, it’s just far too childish for my tastes.

The main character, a honey bee that is a freak but isn’t killed by the other bees at birth for being so, becomes some new kind of super bee that seems to be able to resist the hive mind and do whatever she wants and goes through most of the jobs in the hive doing them all better than the bees whose sole job they’ve been bred for.   On top of the childishness of this aspect is the childishness of heavily anthropomorphising this character far above the general anthropomorphising of all the other bees.

Not that i mind a bit of anthropomorphising, but for a honey bee it does get overdone to childishness, which is why i consider this a children’s book.

Other than that, i have to say that it is very well written, with a flowing style and easy language — again, making it very suitable for children.

Rather disappointed, but for 99p i shouldn’t really moan.

Laline’s Page

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The Raven Tower — Ann Leckie

No idea how i came across this, but it sounded rather good so i added it to my wish list and it got put on sale for only 99p — i didn’t need asking twice.

Ann’s Page

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Yarrow, Sturdy and Bright — Devon Monk

The first tale from the anthology ‘Once Upon A Curse’

Anyone remember the Pied Piper?   Ever wondered what happened afterwards?

It’s a very short tale but with 17 tales in 416 pages one can’t expect long ones.   It’s well written though, and i quite enjoyed it despite its short length.

If this is setting the standard for the rest of the anthology then i shall be very pleased.

Devon’s Page

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Sealskin — Su Bristow

It came up cheap on a Kindle deal some time ago and i thought i may as well throw it in ‘The Pile’ and give it a read when i had a mermaid binge.

And i think i’m very glad i did.

The story is set in some far out Scottish fishing village way back somewhere in time.   Su really does give the reader a feel of what life must have been like for these rural fishing folk and their families in these isolated far flung villages before newspapers, radios, telephones, television and even local doctors.   Where you’d have to rely on the local herbalist, or hedge witch, for your healthcare needs.

Sometimes it’s pretty grim.   As i say, it’s set way back in time when simple folk live rather simple lives in simple villages, and the story begins with a fairly simple fisherman hiding a Selkie’s seal skin while she’s out of it and then raping her when she can’t go back to the water.   Don’t worry if you’re not up on what a Selkie is, the story covers all you need to know.   I would even say it’s probably better if you don’t know about Selkies because this is an expansion of an old folk story about Selkies and if you’ve read that story then you just might guess the ending of this one.

So having raped her he takes her back to his cottage and later returns to collect her seal skin.

And so the story begins and plays out amongst these old world fisher folk of the village.   And it’s really good, even in all it’s old world grimness.

It’s incredibly well written in a nice, easy flowing prose, and one can really fall completely into the story without disruption or distraction.

I would also give writers like Su a big pile of kudos for bringing old folk tales like this into the modern, wider literary world and doing such a great job of it.

Su’s Page

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The Mermaid — Christina Henry

Another great story from Christina.

I certainly feel rewarded for reading ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘The Fabulous Showman’ before diving straight into this, as they do give one the feeling and attitude of the age and thereby give this story a sense of genuine realism.   So i would certainly recommend reading both before hand if you’re looking for a more immersive experience from this story.

Reading a work of fiction that contains real historical characters, in their real historical places and time, while only twisting the factual narrative where needed to make the fictional narrative fit was, at times, quite emotionally disturbing.   One can truly feel for Amelia as though she is a genuine historical person, because all the people around her were genuine historical people.

For example, Barnum did put a huge tank into the museum, but he put whales in it.   And the way in which he treats the mermaid in this story is not too dissimilar to how he treated the whales.   One can almost read this story as the story of those whales, and have Amelia’s voice speak for them.   Sadly, the whales never had a voice, nor did they have someone like Levi to champion their corner, and all suffered and died serving the ignorance of the masses and Barnum’s bank account.   It made me feel genuinely uncomfortable, and moved in ways that an ordinary work of fiction simply doesn’t.   It’s quite the experience, and one i certainly recommend.

As with all of Christina’s books, the writing is wonderful, flowing, and, for me, perfectly edited.   A wonderful read.   It really does capture the feeling and attitude of the age.

Christina’s next book ‘The Girl in Red’ is out on 18th June 2019.   I’m so looking forward to having a ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ journey.

Christina’s Page

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