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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

October 17, 2019

4 Books of Folklore and Fairy Tales

by MK French

Fairy tales and folklore are short stories involving fantastic creatures that don't exist in nature, often teaching lessons to readers/listeners as the story progresses. Many of these stories are told and retold in different ways; many of the core themes in these stories actually date back thousands of years. Most of the time, fairy tales are considered stories we tell children, and that grown-ups don't need to listen to the stories themselves. They dismiss the warnings within the stories as silly things that only children would believe and feel that they don't apply to adults anymore. The wonder has gone out of those adults, which is a sad thing. There are still so many lessons that adults can learn from these stories, especially when they're reinterpreted for modern times.

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Tamamo the Fox Maiden edited by Kel McDonald and Kate Ashwin

Tamamo the Fox Maiden
April 2019;  Iron Circus Comics; 978-1945820342
ebook, print (209 pages); young adult
This is the second volume of the "Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales" graphic novel series and includes stories from Asia. The illustrations are in grayscale, with easy to read lettering for each panel. The art style isn't always cartoony or hyper-realistic but fits the theme of each story very well. From the opening story, we have fun details like stars in the spirit's eyes when she gets excited, to stubble on male faces and wrinkles for the elderly. Then there is the traditionally cartoony artwork for "The Great Flood," with lots of small details for the city of Xianglu.

Our opener, "The Lucky Teapot" by Nicole Chartrand, is based on Japanese folklore involving fox spirits. This one isn't out to do harm, but to repay the kindness of the tinker Jinbei that had helped her. Of course, there are misunderstandings, but the two become good friends and make it work for them both. Kate Ashwin adapted a story herself, "The Demon With The Matted Hair," and Prince Five-Weapons initially reminds me of Kuzco from "The Emperor's New Groove." He is so certain of himself and the rightness of his own instincts, even when unproven, but is able to turn it all around when he stops and thinks. It's a fun little story, with a positive spin on what could otherwise lead to a terrible end for the characters. Kel McDonald also has a story included in this collection, "The Legend of Asena," which has sparsely worded panels and tells more of its story through the art.

For a bit more of a modern influence, "#endoftheworld" is a story set in India with hashtags on posts, tweets, and texts that gods send via their cellphones. Looking to explore the Ganges, Makora can't leave his phone behind even as he tries to save the sun from falling into the river when it sets. I found this story adorable, with Makora's good intentions and sweet heart in trying to save the sun. Adorable in a different way is "Ghost Pepper," with a Laotian spirit and a man wishing he could cook exciting things for dinners find each other.

"Frog Skin" is an interesting fairy tale with great illustrative style reminding me of a lot of manga series. The frog wife is drawn to be very adorable, and it's clear that she has a strength of character as she instructs her hapless husband how to complete the impossible tasks set before him to keep her. It will have a lot of elements of the fairy bride tales, but it took a fun turn at the end of the story which had me laughing out loud. "The Girl Who Married A Tiger" follows this story, which is fitting because it's another animal spouse story. This one doesn't involve a mutually beneficial and caring relationship, so the girls' clever brothers help her escape. "The Ballad of Mulan" isn't like the Disney movie, if that's your only exposure to her story. She does join the army in her father's stead and serves for years before returning to the capital a hero for the Emperor. None of her fellow warriors had known she was a woman, but it doesn't matter at all to them.

This is a fun collection of stories and is a great one for fans of fairy tales from around the world.

Buy Tamamo the Fox Maiden at Amazon

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Descendant of the Crane
April 2019; AW Teen; 978-0807515518
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); young adult
Princess Hesina of Yan had never really wanted to rule her country, but after her father's murder, she has no choice. As the eldest in her family, she has to take the responsibility of the throne and chooses to pursue the truth about her father's murder. This exposes corruption, lies, illegal magic, and political intrigue that she had never wanted to be part of. In the midst of all of this, she has to decide what is best for her country as well as for her family.

I find it hard to believe that this is Joan He's first novel. It's so intricately plotted, with nuanced details that develop over time. Hesina's journey on the edges of legality, first by consulting a soothsayer despite that being a treasonous act, all the way to the end of the novel, is well done. We're as naive as she is at the start of the novel, and the court intrigue, strained relationships within her family and the troubled history of her country all naturally are revealed as the novel progresses. It's heavily influenced by Chinese culture and history, which adds to the ethereal beauty of the story, and a lingering melancholy as Hesina loses her innocence and trust in others.

The action in the novel is less of the sword and sorcery variety, though there are elements of that at times and more of the spoken word. It's fitting that chapters open up with the words of One and Two, the primary founders of the country because they had set up the culture and the fear of soothsayers and magic upon which a lot of Yan is based. Everything in the story flows smoothly so that the plot twists and character beats feel inevitable. Nothing feels out of place here, and every single one of the characters feels real. They all carry secrets, and the weight of history behind every part of the book really adds to a sense of inevitability. Joan He's word choices are also very lyrical, reminding me of the brush strokes of the different characters that make up the written language. Because of this, I devoured this book in a single day.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale
November 2018; Tachyon Publications; 978-1616963064
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); anthology
This is a collection of various retold and reworked fairy tales that had been written by Jane Yolen. She is a fantastic writer for fairy tales and the magical realism style, so I leapt at the chance to read and review this book. Bonus, she also calls this genre fractured fairy tales like I do! In a forward to the collection she explains her process, and the afterward explains the context for some of the stories. Like a lot of classical fairy tales, there are problematic themes woven into them: murder, incest, body dysmorphia, anti-Semitism, colonialism and misogyny. Not all of those things are featured in the text in a way that shows how problematic they are, so some readers might think there is tacit approval.

A few of the stories that deal with the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are actually heartbreaking. Even a demon could love a child and want to save her from it in one story, and a girl goes back in time to save people for Elijah and in the end discovers why. The retelling of Rumplestiltskin is sad, and also in keeping with the way people treated the Jews leading up to the Holocaust. Selkies usually are women with seal skins, but apparently, selchies are the male version. Dragons have their own fairy tales to pass down to their grandchildren, and animals have their own tales to tell around a watering hole. The Southern-style of Snow White was an interesting twist to the old tale that I enjoyed a lot.

Jane Yolen includes an afterword explaining the origins of each story, as a lot of them were written for different collections throughout the years. She also includes a poem inspired by the story written, or inspired by the original fairy tale that she had fractured. It's an interesting look into the writing process and includes a few autobiographical bits as well. I think this section would be most appreciated by fans of her work or of fairy tales and can be an inspiration for authors looking to fracture tales in the future.

Buy How to Fracture a Fairy Tale at Amazon

Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal

Five Midnights
June 2019; Tor Teen; 978-1250296078
audio, ebook, print (288 pages); young adult
Lupe Dávila used to vacation in Puerto Rico with her father, but her father sent her to her uncle and aunt alone this year. While there, she sees her uncle in the middle of a grisly murder case that involves a group of boyhood friends, most of which fell into drugs and crime. Javier Utierre had been clean for two years but is likely still a target. Javier and Lupe are determined to try to figure out a way to keep them all alive before he ends up dead as well.

The big bad isn't just the crime ring of drug dealers in Puerto Rico, but El Cuco, the story often used to frighten children into behaving better. Legends have power, especially in a place like Puerto Rico where many still carry the old beliefs. Lupe is half Puerto Rican but looks more like the Caucasian mother that had abandoned her and her father. She is at the butt end of comments from islanders that resent her presence, which adds to her drive to help those she can. She also serves as the reader's entry point into the culture of Puerto Rico if they aren't already aware of it, and the legend of El Cuco.

Descriptions are vivid throughout this novel. Not just the slums and the drug-riddled areas, but the neighborhoods that are nicer and more upscale. The food and the rhythm of island life come across in every page, and the elements of the supernatural horror story fit well with the characters and the emotional intensity they carry. These are all teenagers, after all, and everything can feel like life or death with them. To make it actually life or death ups the ante and the tension level until we reach the conclusion. It stretches out a bit because there are too many different perspectives, but each of them is important in the final narrative. Even better, we end on a hopeful note for our survivors.

Buy Five Midnights at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children. 

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  1. some very intriguing covers. thanks for sharing
    sherry @ fundinmental

  2. The covers definitely drew me in, and the text grabbed my attention right away.