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review 2017-12-13 06:11
I gave myself a nice surprise
The Seventh Bride - T. Kingfisher

I'm a total mess when it comes to curating my ereader. I check things out of the library and compulsively download books both profligately and promiscuously. I follow one link after another in search of books that might appeal, and almost never make note of how I ended up with that one thing on the queue. And saying I have a queue is an insult to an organized and methodical list of readerly desire, because I pretty much read at whim (when I'm not reading for work) and my whims are scattered far and wide.

 

So when I picked up The Seventh Bride, I more or less assumed previous me had downloaded some crap that might be fun at bedtime, one of those first person jobs with a Strong Female Protagonist and some sexytimes, the kind where the Strong Female Protagonist spends all her time slut shaming everyone around her and sucking. Hey don't judge! I like getting pissed at my reading so I can get some godamn sleep once in a while. Alas, The Seventh Bride turned out to be well written and interesting. So much for sleeping! Sleeping is for suckers anyway. 

 

Turns out, The Seventh Bride is a retelling of Bluebeard, the folktale probably best known from its telling by Charles Perrault (who also wrote Puss in Boots). In the tale, a young bride marries an older lord of some kind, and is admonished by him never to look in one specific room. (Just fyi, a forbidden thing in a story is called by folklorists a narrative lack, and you can bet your bottom dollar that this lack will be fulfilled in the text.) So too, in Bluebeard: the young wife finds the key, and upon opening the forbidden door, finds the heads of all the previous wives, usually seven in number. Thus, the name of the novel. 

 

The Seventh Bride dispenses with the young wife's naivete. She knows the lord is bad news, but is more or less sold to him because of deeply unfair social architecture. Instead, the novel focuses on the relationships between the wives, some of whom are still living, and some of whom are, well, maybe not dead, but not altogether alive either. Kingfisher does a lovely job of detailing the strange connections between the women. One woman in particular is devoted to her evil husband, and a couple others are so twisted by their circumstance that they are fragile and dangerous in their fragility. This is no rosy sisterhood, but it isn't some bitch-fest either, where our protagonist gets to be Queen B because all women but her are the worst.

 

Nuanced relationships between women in a fucked up system? Who even does that? Kingfisher does; amen sister. 

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review 2015-08-16 00:00
Bluebeard's Wife
Bluebeard's Wife - Selena Kitt If I only say one thing about this book, it would be, HOLY CRAP THIS BOOK WAS HOT!!! Definitely read it with a glass of water close by to cool you off because you will need it!
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-07-21 07:04
Toad Words and Other Stories by T. Kingfisher
Toad Words and Other Stories - T. Kingfisher

Toad Words and Other Stories is a collection of three poems and eight stories. Almost all of them feature familiar tales that have been twisted or tweaked somehow. Be warned, my review spoils some of those twists.

If you like the cover, I should mention that there's a cute toad illustration on the title page as well.

“It Has Come To My Attention”

A poem about a person who isn't interested in the aspects of fairy tales that they're supposed to be. This was okay, but, honestly, I'm not a poetry person.

“Toad Words”

This story is a twist on the “Diamonds and Toads” tale, in which one daughter speaks and jewels fall out of her mouth and one speaks and toads fall out of her mouth. In this version, neither daughter is a particularly terrible person, and both have long since adjusted to their gift/curse. The POV character is the one who speaks and frogs and toads fall out of her mouth. When she learns that various amphibians are going extinct, she decides to do something about it.

This was nice and actually made me wish a curse like that could exist. The main character certainly made the best use of it that she could.

“The Wolf and the Woodsman”

In this “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling, a little girl called Turtle goes to her grandmother's house only to find her grandmother and a wolf waiting together for the woodsman, a man her grandmother had gotten to know and who had become increasingly controlling and violent.

So in this retelling we have the wolf reimagined as the grandmother's friend, and the woodsman reimagined as a threatening figure whose disturbing behavior has been escalating. I liked it, even though it was pretty predictable once I realized how everyone's roles had been tweaked. This was the first story that made it clear that these fairy tales were Not For Kids.

“Bluebeard's Wife”

Based on the “Bluebeard” story. Bluebeard's last wife had grown up with sisters who never respected her privacy, so she was determined to respect her husband's. When he mentioned that there was a locked door in their manor that she must never open, she never opened it and, as a result, had many pleasant years with her husband. It wasn't until after his death that she learned what he had been hiding.

One thing I liked about these retellings is that they looked at how these characters might react to their stories if they were real people. Althea, Bluebeard's last wife, was a person trying to reconcile the decent husband she'd lived with for 27 years with the horrors she later learned he'd been hiding, that she'd only escaped because she'd allowed him his privacy. I really felt for her.

“Loathly”

A “Loathly Lady” story told from the perspective of the loathly lady. This story was dark. The main character was turned into a monster, forced by magic to kill, and eventually forced to rape a man who agreed to terrible things in order to survive. Then she was raped by him after she transformed back into a human.

I had to take a break after reading this one. “The Wolf and the Woodsman” was dark, but at least the ending had some justice in it. This was just dark and heavy and left me feeling horrified for all the characters.

“The Sea Witch Sets the Record Straight”

This one is based on “The Little Mermaid.” The sea witch explains that she didn't take the mermaid's voice for herself, but rather to keep the girl from blabbing all the ocean's secrets to the prince.

Like “Toad Words,” this story has a bit of an environmental twist to it. The lighter tone was a great relief after “Loathly.” Although the sea witch was still a little villainous, she wasn't unkind. The mermaid was a bit silly and tragic, but there was still a chance that she could go back to her old life.

“Never”

A chilling reimagining of Peter Pan as a monster and a tyrant, from the perspective of a girl in his “Lost Boys” gang.

Yeah, I don't think there's a happy ending for this POV character, although I wish there were. The author did a great job twisting Peter Pan into something horrible that still fit within the framework of the original story.

“Bait”

One of the collection's three poems. I think it might be based on “The Snow Queen.” It was okay, but, again, I'm not really a poetry person.

“Night”

One of the few stories in this collection that isn't based on and doesn't reference any stories (as far as I know). It pictures “Night” as a theater production that has been going on for billions of years. I thought it was cute, and one of the most quotable stories in the whole collection. My favorite: “The excitement, that first time when there, in the third row, a self-replicating amino acid was spotted, clutching its ticket and peering around with the nearsightedness of something that lacks sense organs, and which can only be called an organism in the loosest sense of the word. It couldn't see the show, and the show couldn't see it without a microscope, but still, the tension in the air was electric.” (57)

“Boar & Apples”

A “Snow White” retelling. I'm pretty sure this was the longest story out of the bunch.

I loved the efforts of the huntsman and the other servants to quietly defy their increasingly cruel and disturbed queen. I liked Arrin, and although Snow started off as a fairly “blah” character, she gradually grew stronger and more capable. And the pigs were a great twist on the “seven dwarves” aspect.

Although it felt like the ending happened too soon and was a bit too sudden, I still really enjoyed this retelling. Even if I hadn't liked any of the other stories, I think Toad Words and Other Stories would have been worth it for this story alone.

“Odd Season”

After “Boar & Apples,” this poem was a letdown. To be honest, I didn't really get it. I felt it was the weakest work in the entire collection.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2014-07-06 00:36
Book Review: Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
Bluebeard - Kurt Vonnegut

The Basics

Rabo Karabekian is an artist aging alone in a big house full of modern art. Then one day he finds Circe Berman, a young widow, on his private beach. She urges him to write an autobiography about his life, invites herself to live in his house, and starts asking questions about the locked potato barn on his property. Herein, Rabo unravels his life story and eventually comes to face that barn himself.

My Thoughts

Vonnegut doesn’t write bad books. I’ve come to believe that wholeheartedly. I do think sometimes he writes books that aren’t for everyone though, and while I enjoyed this book, there were things that left me wishing for better.

Let me start with Circe Berman. While this wasn’t really a trope when it was written, she smacks of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She sweeps into Rabo’s life to change it for the better while struggling to be a character herself. It wasn’t until the end that I felt she had really become something besides a catalyst for Rabo, but even that felt weak. Not to mention that when Rabo’s irritation with her built, so did mine, so I struggled to both understand and like her. It didn’t break the book for me, but it was a hurdle.

I also think, and this is my problem more than it is Vonnegut’s, that this book wasn’t strange enough. For someone that’s really known for delivering oddities with a smirk, this didn’t have much of that at all. That’s not to say it wasn’t odd in its way, but the oddness was still within the walls of contemporary literature. I adjusted to it and enjoyed the book, but I think this is a sign of the sort of reputation Vonnegut made for himself as a writer of the wonderfully weird and how hard it was for him to break out.

That said, it was still a wonderful book with all that Vonnegut charm. Vonnegut attempts here to chart his way through the waters of modern art, to talk equally about what someone could see in it and what people may be incapable of seeing in it, and much of that is insightful and hilarious. He talks about war in that way that is unique entirely to him. He tells Rabo’s story the way a man facing his past might: in anecdotes, turning to look at memories only when he is prepared for them, and it works.

I always feel personally rewarded when I read Vonnegut, and this was no exception.

Final Rating

4/5

 

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review 2013-11-24 16:13
Monster
Bluebeard Tales from Around the World - Heidi Anne Heiner

 Disclaimer: I did some annotations for the Surlanefairytales website.

 

                This massive book contains various Bluebeard tale types from around the world as well as poems and plays dealing with the most famous serial murderer.  After reading some of these plays, I can see why the plays are largely forgotten.  However, the important aspect of this collection is the ability to trace the development of the story and to see how it reactions to it change over time.

                The version I found the most interesting was the Red Beard version where no reason is given for the desire to murder his wife.  Interesting how that version isn’t told that often, isn’t it?

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