Thanks for all the fish!

To those Postcardians who saw my accidental post last night, I apologize for the confusion.  I was too quick to hit “Publish” instead of “Save.”  I’ve been working on two alternate drafts, and after some more meditation, I’ve decided to go with the more difficult one.

I really wanted to embark on one more half-year of La-La Land adventures, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I have so many other projects to complete this year, and I really can’t stretch myself any further.

I’ll leave the blog open for you to visit.  I may come back myself someday.  I may even sneak in a 10th Anniversary Post later in the year.  But in the meantime…

thanks

Thank you, Postcardians, for all the conversations and recommendations and LOLs and squees and alternative perspectives!

To quote Hook:  “That was a great game.”

And to quote Q:  “I’ll see you… out there.”

all the fish

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Posted in book blogging | 2 Comments

The 2018 Review

Welcome, Postcardians, to another celebration of a year in La-La Land!  Have a metaphorical seat by the imaginary fireplace, and enjoy a virtual taste of my grandmother’s gingerbread mushrooms!

Grybukai

* Overview *

First, a big Thank You!!! to everyone who followed Postcards in 2018, and for all the likes and comments!

2018 has been a particularly important year for me, as I celebrated Lithuania’s 100th Independence anniversary by exploring the fairy tales, poetry, and music of the Baltic nation, and attending the week-long Song and Dance Festival in July.

I also spent the first half of the year praising an LGBT-friendly parody of the vice president’s children’s book, awwing at modern Meet Cutes, and vicariously attending beach-side mermaid shows.

The latter half of the year was a little tougher.  A depression flare-up prompted me to search for new comfort reads (Percy Jackson and A Discovery of Witches are on my 2019 TBR list, but I’ll share a few of the other comfort reads I’ve discovered on pg 2) and fun bookish podcasts to cheer me up.

I also kept my Fall spirits up by focusing this year’s Halloween Month on terrifyingly twisted fairy tales — from skeletal Cinderellas to horror-obsessed Hansels to bloodthirsty Little Mermaids.

And so!

It’s time for a look back at my favorite reads of 2018.  This year, I’ve divided my Year-End Review into a Nice List and a Naughty List, because I thought it would be fun to share not only the best books, but also my top DNFs (Books I Did Not Finish) of 2018.

On Dasher!  On Dancer!…

poinsetta

* The Nice List:  Part One *

As always, click each cover for the review.

Graziausios Vaikystes Pasakos  Simon  Marlon Bundo  Friends  Like Water  Fish Girl  Funny Bones  The Jumbies  Sleeper and Spindle  Sita's Ramayana  Twisted Myths  MerrySpinster.indd  Red as Blood  Night and Silence

Next

Posted in fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, LGBTQIA, Lithuania, mermaids, meta, music, nostalgic, spooky, year-end review | 8 Comments

Life needs a rewind button

So…

overreacted

I should really have learned by now that 8:00 at night is not the best time for me to make big decisions (or dramatic blog posts).  8:00 at night is when I’m most susceptible to all-or-nothing thinking.  As in, if I’m having trouble cranking out ALL THE POSTS I’ve been planning, I might as well just give up.  Or: if I’m feeling too stressed to write a post right at this moment, I’m going to feel this way FOR THE NEXT THREE MONTHS.

But then, as you do, I get a good night’s sleep and wake up in a much more optimistic mood.  And I start thinking:  That wasn’t the send-off I wanted to give 2018! I can do better than that!

And so, I’m postponing my hibernation a bit and inviting you to stay tuned for the real 2018 Review in December.  My previous post was basically a preview of that.

In the meantime, I hope you have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Minion Turkey

Posted in book blogging | 6 Comments

The October Report: Night and Silence

Apparently, the faeries snuck one last gift into my bag before we left the Twilight Realm.

Night and Silence

Rating:  4.89 out of 5 nasty, allergy-inducing sachets of marsh magic.

The newest October Daye book, Night and Silence, is so amazeballs that the faeries gave it to me in hardcover.  SO AMAZEBALLS, YOU GUYS!!!  Things happen.  THINGS.  REVELATIONS.  I thought Of Things Unknown was world-altering, but this book takes things EVEN FURTHER.

And so, I’ve decided to review it here rather than at Goodreads.  I may even make this a second Halloween Month tradition — besides my usual spooky book posts, I may also review future October Daye books here.  We’ll see.  You can still find my previous Toby reviews at Goodreads.

Anyhoo…

The non-spoilery gist is that, on top of dealing with the aftermath of Amandine’s cat-napping, Toby gets a sudden visit from her estranged ex-fiance, because, apparently, her daughter’s been kidnapped AGAIN.  And in Cliff’s eyes, Toby is the prime suspect.

rude

Of course Toby takes the case, but it turns out this kidnapping is much more complicated, and Gillian’s step-mother seems to be hiding some important information.

And then ish really hits the fan, and in order to save Gillian, Toby and her allies have to bend the rules of Faerie even more than usual.

Ok, right, that sounds pretty standard for a Toby adventure, but YOU GUYS IT’S NOT.  IT’S AMAZEBALLS.  AND THE TAG-ALONG NOVELLA IS ABOUT SELKIES.  JUST THOUGHT I’D THROW THAT IN THERE.

But don’t read it until you read the main novel, because spoilers.

Faeries1

A few random, non-spoilery things I loved:

  • This Toby-Tybalt moment:

    I sighed.  “Remind me again why I missed you?”
    “Because I am the only man who adores you as fully as you should be adored, covered in blood or no.”

    .

  • This Toby-Luidaeg moment:

    “Stop,” she said, not unkindly.  “You’re chasing the tide again, and you’re never going to catch it.”
    “Excuse me?”
    “Your head.  It’s got its own undertow, you know, and if you swim too deep, it can suck you down.  You can’t chase the tide.  You need to stay on the shore and let it come to you.”  She shook her head.  “I’m not going to tell you that everything is going to be fine.  I wouldn’t do it even if I was still allowed to lie.  Such things are too cruel even for a sea witch.  But I will tell you that what’s on the other side of that door is never going to be as bad as the undertow in your own mind.”

  • That Toby recognizes some of her own prejudices, which developed as she became more Fae.
    .
  • The further major insights we get into why the Big Three left Faerie five hundred years ago.

Faeries2

A few non-spoilery things I didn’t love:

  • I do not buy that Toby would have avoided getting Sylvester’s help, for as long as she did, in the search for Gillian.  I’m pretty sure I know Toby better than that by now.  She would have used every resource she had, grudges be damned, to get her daughter back.
    .
  • I’m getting really frustrated with the Luidaeg’s ongoing grudge against Liz Ryan.  As I explained in more detail in my review of In Sea-Salt Tears, their fall-out happened on a two-way street.  Liz’s “betrayal” was based on a major lack of information.  The Luidaeg was hiding some majorly important facts, and whether that was by choice or by geas, she really shouldn’t have blamed Liz so severely for the choice she made.  Liz isn’t the real enemy here.  She’s not the one who truly betrayed the Luidaeg in the first place.  She’s not the one who should be so broken and full of self-loathing.

Faeries3

Overall

This book was super fast-paced, had mind-blowing revelations, and gave me much deeper insights into my favorite characters and their world.  Plus, selkies.

If you’re already a Toby devotee, and would like to see me squee over the more spoilery details, follow me to page 2.

Open roads and kind fires…

Posted in family, fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, Halloween, October Daye, selkies | 2 Comments

Ghastly Ever After: Twisted Myths for teens and up

At our final stop on this frightful journey through Faerie Land, the bloody-footed mermaid at the door gives us three collections of terrifying tales rated Teen-and-up.  These are tales of blood-thirsty gods, angels of death, and demonic Cinderellas.  Tales of blood and bones, certainly, but also the more subtle, everyday horror of unhappy marriages and neighbors who maybe care a little too much.

This time, the order of tales is not according to Scare-o-Meter rating, but age-appropriateness.  We start with the twisted myths appropriate for mid-teens, and end with a collection of wicked fairy tales more appropriate for college-age and older readers.  Of course, as always, the decision is up to you re: which stories you feel ready to tackle.  The important thing is to have an open mind and strong critical thinking skills.

If I haven’t scared you off yet, walk this way (but mind your head)…

TW copy

Maura McHugh.  Twisted Myths.  Hauppauge, NY: Barrons, 2013.

Twisted Myths

Scare-o-Meter:  8 out of 10 immortal livers being feasted upon by Zeus’ golden eagle.

I was much more impressed with this collection than with Twisted Fairy Tales.  The stories were more consistently dark and deadly, definitely living up to the book’s premise.  Maura McHugh didn’t even need to do much twisting herself to bring out the gruesome elements.  She simply chose the myths that were disturbing to begin with, and artist Jane Laurie enhanced them with viciously vivid paintings of blood-speckled gods; gods with bare skeleton faces; gods making ghastly, teeth-baring grimaces at the reader.

Of course, the level of horror varies from story to story.  A few, like the Greek story of Eros and Psyche, have but a hint of blood, while others, like the Egyptian “Sekhmet’s Thirst,” have rivers of red.  But, as I said, the overall tone is much more consistent with the “dark and dangerous” theme.

My favorites were “The Coming of the Tuatha De Dannan” (not to be confused with the purple-haired, teleporting Tuatha of October Daye’s Fae-verse); “Lord Ganesha” (an Indian legend of one of the most popular Hindu gods); “The Fifth Sun” (an Aztec creation myth that features Chalchiuhtlicue, one of my favorite water goddesses that I featured in my parody of the “Limonade Brault” poster); “Pele Comes to Hawai’i” (a tale of some srsly intense sibling rivalry); and “White Buffalo Woman” (a Seneca tale from Native North America, in which a powerful woman smites the man who tries to sexually harass her, and rewards the man who shows her dignity and respect).

I give this collection a 5 out of 5 golden apples from Asgard.

TW copy

Daniel Mallory Ortberg.  The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror.  New York: Holt, 2018.

MerrySpinster.indd

Scare-o-Meter:  6 out of 10 vicious velveteen rabbits.

Daniel Ortberg twists familiar fables and bedtime stories, turning them into macabre adult tales of deadly angels, wicked mermaids, and not-so-forgiving animal neighbors.  In Ortberg’s versions, the Little Mermaid makes a much less noble decision in the end; the Velveteen Rabbit decides to steal himself some Realness from the boy; and the sister of the six wild swans gets her quiet, smiling revenge on a brutish husband.

The only story I didn’t like was the Goose Girl retelling (“The Wedding Party”), which was literally just one character re-telling the Goose Girl story to her fiancé.  I much prefer twisted fairy tales that don’t beat you over the head with which fairy tale they’re twisting.  Luckily, most of Ortberg’s stories are more subtle about their sources.

And Ortberg’s inspiration comes from a neat variety of sources, from Grimm to Genesis, from British ballads to 20th-century American short stories, from religious texts to more secular folktales.

But the best thing about The Merry Spinster is the gender-fluid characters who defy the social roles promoted in the original texts — daughters named Paul, brothers named Sylvia, women and men who take turns being husbands and wives.  Ortberg himself was transitioning as he was writing the stories (the book was published under his old name, since he hadn’t made his transition official yet), and so he created a world that reflects his experience.  If you’d like to learn more about Ortberg, I recommend this interview in New York Magazine.

I give this a 4.85 out of 5 sinister godmothers.

TW copy

Tanith Lee.  Red as Blood: Tales from the Sisters Grimmer.  Cabin John, MD: The Wildside Press, 2014.  Kindle Expanded Edition (cover different from below).

Red as Blood

Scare-o-Meter:  7 out of 10 chimes of doom from the deadly grandfather clock.

What if Snow White were the real villain and the “wicked queen” just a sadly maligned innocent? What if awakening Sleeping Beauty would be the mistake of a lifetime — of several lifetimes? What if the famous folk tales were retold with an eye to more horrific possibilities?

~ Wildside Press

These stories are complicated — more complicated even than the publisher’s summary suggests.  Tanith Lee does spin inverted stories of wicked beauties and sympathetic stepmothers.  But she also tells of truly wicked witches — the kind of witches the Puritans believed in, the kind who actually do have hellish connections.  And yet, she also tells of more sympathetic pagan magicians.

She enters into the battle between Christianity and paganism, yet doesn’t take a clear stance one way or the other.  Some stories allow the Christian stepmother to “cure” a stubbornly pagan Snow White, or the Jesus figure to lure children away from their rat-worshipping community.  But other stories feature the strong-willed grandmother invoking an ancient wolf goddess to smite her abusive husband, or the innocent Rapunzel being rescued from her hellish captor by a sympathetic leader of the Underworld.

Like with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, this collection requires you to have a really open mind about religion.  You’ll have to make up your own mind about these wicked Cinderellas and heavenly Pied Pipers.  Who are the heroes and who are the villains?  Are there any heroes?

My favorite stories include “Wolfland” (which I discussed in more depth here); “When the Clock Strikes” (a sinister Cinderella tale with hints of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”); and “Beauty” (a futuristic Beauty and the Beast in which the Beast is an alien rather than an earthly monster).

I give this one a 4.5 out of 5 genetically-engineered roses.

TW copy

The night wanes, the faery houses turn out their welcoming lights, and it’s time to head home with our cauldrons full of treats.  I hope I’ve added to your TBR pile this month, and that you have a fabulous time at your mortal Halloween parties and on your more local trick-or-treat journeys.  Remember — costume responsibly.  No ethnicity-caricaturizing outfits, ‘k?

Stay safe, Postcardians! Blow_Kiss_Emoji_grande

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, Halloween, horror, LGBTQIA, mermaids, short stories | 4 Comments

Grimm and Grimmer: twisted fairy tales for more mature trick-or-treaters

We continue our Halloween journey, collecting five scary tales for middle-grade and older readers.  The Scare-o-Meter ratings are more varied here; the mildest story gets a 5, the scariest one a solid 10.

These stories teach us Very Important Lessons, like:

More you know

  • It’s ok to express our dark sides in stories, as long as we know the difference between fictional horror and real-life violence.
    .
  • Sometimes, we’re not faced with a straightforward battle between Good and Evil.  Sometimes, we have to consider the “scary” side’s point of view.
    .
  • Sometimes, life is just really, really unfair, and it’s not your fault.

But there are also a few problematic messages, like:

More you know 2

  • The solution to unspeakable violence is…more violence.

If you’re still feeling brave enough, follow me to a forbidden forest filled with demons, cannibals, and (squee!) zombicorns.

Into the Woods, Into the Woods!

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, graphic-novels, Halloween, horror, LGBTQIA, meta, spooky | Tagged | 4 Comments

Picture Book Parade: Spooky Cinderellas and Grimm boogie nights

Welcome, ghouls and banshees, to Halloween Month at Postcards from La-La Land!  This month, I am focusing on twisted myths and scary fairy tales, hunting for the horrifying hearts of our favorite bedtime stories.  There will be posts on petrifying picture books, murderous middle grade novels, and terrifying tales for teens and up.

Think of this as a literary trick-or-treat through hollow hills and haunted forests, where a good spine-tingling story is the treat.

We start with seven spooky stories appropriate for all ages to cuddle with on chilly October nights.  On the Scare-o-Meter, I’d give these all about 2 or 3 out of 10 flying Hoopler vacuum cleaners.

Also, apologies in advance for all the annoying alliteration 😉

pumpkin patch

Deborah Nourse Lattimore.  Cinder Hazel: the Cinderella of Halloween.  New York: The Blue Sky Press, 1997.

Cinder Hazel cover

Cinder Hazel doesn’t sleep in the ashes because she’s forced to; she LOVES all things grimy and gross.  Every day, she sweeps dust and dirt all over the floors, and pours buckets of grime all over herself.  She’s delighted when her stepmother and stepsisters nickname her Cinder Hazel.  And she absolutely intends to attend the Witches’ Halloween Ball exactly as she is.

The illustrations are truly ghastly, with bug-eyed, goblin-faced witches; putrid, potato-headed princes; feline familiars that look like they’ve been electro-shocked; and witchy godmothers dressed in dirty dishrags.

This is a story about embracing your non-conformity, and trusting that there’s a soulmate for everyone — even a grimy goblin-witch who spreads soot everywhere she goes.

I give this book a 5 out of 5 cracked broomsticks. 

pumpkin patch

More spooks, skeletons, and scary godmothers…

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, Halloween, Picture Book Parade, picture books, spooky | 6 Comments

“The spirits of this world, they don’t stay dead for long.”

Hurricane ChildKheryn Callender.  Hurricane Child.  New York: Scholastic, 2018.

Rating:  3.75 out of 5 running girls who burst into a cloud of moths.

As summer dies down, I’m going to give you a preview of Halloween Month, with a book about a girl who can see spirits.  Caroline Murphy is a Hurricane Child, born during the terrible storm that swept through the U.S. Virgin Islands twelve years ago.  Maybe that’s why she can see the things no one else can.  There’s an old woman dressed all in black, who watches Caroline sometimes.  There’s a white woman wearing a nightgown, who stands in the school cafeteria.  There are other people Caroline sees, whom no one else seems to notice.  And maybe these spirits know what happened to Caroline’s mother.  She just has to figure out a way to ask them.

But in the meantime, she’s distracted by her feelings toward the new girl in school, Kalinda Francis.  Kalinda, who talks back to the class bully, yet doesn’t mind sitting with her at lunch.  Kalinda, who has a special smile for everyone.  Kalinda, who may be the only other person to see the things Caroline sees.

 Things I loved:

  • The spooky spirits, of course.  So, why didn’t I tag this post “fantasy”?  Well, unfortunately…more on that in the next section.
    .
  • Caroline’s strong-willed personality.  She does have insecurities, and they do sometimes get the better of her, but ultimately she has enough of a sense of self-worth to not let anyone — especially not her racist teacher — push her around.  I love this exchange between Caroline and Missus Wilhelmina:

“You think this is a joke?” Missus Wilhelmina asks.
“Yes,” I say.
The kids at the door gasp too loudly.  Missus Wilhelmina whips around and sees them there.  They scramble away.  She turns back to me.
“You don’t want to go to this school anymore,” she says, “that’s what it is.  You want to be kicked out of this school.”
I agree.  “I do.”
“You think you’re smart,” she says, her hand raised again, but I duck.
“Smarter than you,” I say…

(pgs. 12-13)

She also ultimately doesn’t let her neighbors’ attitudes toward homosexuality bring her down.  When someone tries to use the Bible to condemn same-sex relationships, she has an answer ready for that, too.

“You’re a Christian, aren’t you?  Don’t you believe in God?”
“White people once used the Bible to say that we should be slaves.”
“What does that have anything to do with this?”
“Everything,” I tell her.  “It means we should think for ourselves.  Decide if something is wrong just because someone says it’s so, or decide it’s right because that’s how we feel.”

(pgs. 134-135)

  • Finally, I loved the use of the Nina Simone song, “Blackbird,” throughout the story to show Caroline’s feelings at each stage of the plot, and to give us a better sense of who her mother was.

Things I didn’t love

VAGUE SPOILERS AHEAD.  I don’t give away any specific plot points or revelations, but even my vague points might be enough to spoil the story for some readers.  If you’re one of those readers, maybe just read the main points in bold text, and move on to the final section.

  • The incredibly disappointing payoff re: the spirits.  This plot thread was built up to be something so spooky and important, and then it was just dropped, and I was left thinking, What was the point of all that?  It’s like the author changed their mind about the kind of story they were telling, but forgot to change the earlier parts to match the tone at the end.  
    .
  • The portrayal of people with severe depression as selfish and irresponsible.  I get that this story is told from a twelve-year-old’s point of view, a twelve-year-old who hasn’t had enough experiences to help her fully understand what depression does to people, but her p.o.v. should have been countered much better by someone who did understand, and who could have explained things to Caroline.  There is a bit of that, which is why I didn’t take such a big bite out of my rating, but it didn’t feel like enough.

Overall

It’s at least a sweet first crush story that I believe anyone will be able to relate to, with awesome messages about thinking for yourself and deciding what you believe despite what you’ve been told.  And even though the payoff was such a letdown, the spirits were pretty awesome.  I would recommend this book for anyone who loves stories that are a little spooky, but not too spooky, and stories of young love.

*  *  *  *  *

P.S.  Just letting you know, Postcardians, that I’ll be taking September off to work on other projects.  I’ll be back in October with ghastly myths and twisted fairy tales.

Posted in Halloween, LGBTQIA, music, romantic, spooky | 2 Comments

My Top 6 bookish podcasts

First, a big THANK YOU to everyone who gave me their uplifting book recommendations in response to my last post.

best

I am definitely going to check some of those out this Fall and Winter.  I’m especially looking forward to re-reading the Sherlock Holmes stories (to be supplemented with viewings of the Jeremy Brett adaptations), and I might even give Howl’s Moving Castle another chance, now that I’ve read some other perspectives on it.  Plus, sj reminded me that I’ve been wanting to try out the surreal Dreaming Books series.

In addition to cozy books, I’ve been seeking out fun bookish podcasts to listen to on the way to work.  These used to be a rare feature in my car, since I was much more of a music-phile, filling my rides with David Bowie, Clannad, and Belle & Sebastian.

Then, in late 2016, I discovered an Australian fairy tale show called Singing Bones, and began using Apple Podcasts more often.  But it wasn’t until last May that the madness really ensued.  That was when, while checking for new episodes of Singing Bones, I happened upon Apple’s Shows You Might Like feature, and the Irish Double Love podcast popped up, promising plenty of Sweet Valley nostalgia.

And after bingeing all available episodes, I went into withdrawal.  Which was when I started exploring other nostalgic and folklorish podcasts.

And so, the following are my current Top 6 Bookish Podcasts, in descending order (roughly) of how obsessed I am with them.  Why Top 6?  Because I’m that obsessed!

Read on…

Posted in Classic Juv/YA fantasy, fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, historical, humor, LGBTQIA, mermaids, music, nostalgic, opinion, selkies | 2 Comments

I need new pick-me-up reads

Hello, Postcardians!  I know it’s way early to talk about this, but it’s almost that time of year again — harvest festivals, haunted houses, pumpkin spice mochas, and scary fairy tales.  I’m already planning my Halloween Month posts, and deciding on my costume for Fright Night (October Daye again?  Or Abby from NCIS?  Or maybe something mermaid-themed?).  And so, I’m definitely looking forward to Fall.

Unfortunately, this season also brings a less exciting tradition that puts a bit of a damper on the fun timez.  When the air gets colder and the sky gets gloomier, the Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in, adding to my already-depression-prone system.  I can already feel its cold, clawed, skeletal fingers settling around my heart, threatening me with sleepless nights and tearful days.

Castle1

I do have some strategies to cope with the bad moods, including the right medication, added zumba sessions, and decreased exposure to the news, but one of my favorite pick-me-ups is a cozy book to suck me into a brighter, less Trumpy world.  A world of fairies and unicorns and sassy nuns and — most importantly — happy endings.

As I mentioned back in May, I’ve been reading and re-reading (and re-re-reading) the Castle Waiting comics this year — especially the Solicitine chapters in Vol. 1.  This is my ultimate comfort read, the world I return to most often, the characters I want to surround myself with again and again.  The castle and the abbey are my favorite sanctuaries from the toxic politics of the outside world.  Rakham and Dinah and Nessie and Skeeter and Sister Peace are always happy to welcome me back, ready to tell me circus love stories as we munch on Nog Log and Turkish Delight.

Castle2

But I’m starting to feel as restless as Sister Peace, dreaming of new worlds to visit, new sanctuaries to add to my bedside table.

And that’s where you come in, Postcardians.  

I’m looking for new pick-me-up reads.  What are your favorite worlds to escape to when you’re feeling burned out by the Real World?  Where do you turn for quirky characters and happy endings?  What stories soothe you when you’re stressed out?  What books make you feel more hopeful and optimistic about life?  What books make you laugh the most?

And before you give me the most obvious answer, I’ve already added Hogwarts to my list of worlds to revisit this fall — at least the Hogwarts of Books 1-3, before everything gets really dark and dystopian.

Also, I’ve re-read the Hark! A Vagrant! collections almost as often as Castle Waiting, so there’s that.

So, anyway, let’s fill my comments section with rainbows and unicorns and glitter!

pink-fluffy-unicorns-dancing-on-rainbows-gif-1

 

Posted in comics, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, re-reads | 12 Comments