Review: The Language Of Thorns By Leigh Barudgo

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The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo is a collection of reimagined fairy tales. And can I just say it’s the best fairy tale collection I’ve ever read?! It was beautiful beautiful and clever and feminist. This aren’t stories where the princess is just waiting for a prince! They’re full of plot twists but with a darkness that nods to traditional Grimm tales. You might recognise threads of traditional fairy tales (like the Nutcracker and The Little Mermaid) but they’re so different and unique I didn’t want it to end!

There are six tales! They do fit into the Grishaverse, which is a fantasy world created by Leigh Bardugo that began with the Shadow & Bone trilogy and continued in the spin-off duology Six of Crows. However if you haven’t ever read a Grisha book, you would still love these six fairy tales and they’d make perfect sense. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is why you haven’t read them yet. Come on now.

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

I honestly felt like I fell into the dark witch’s wood of magic! I am literally bursting with love and appreciation for the clever writing, the beautiful characters, and the magical depths. It feels like a midnight snack of fairy tales, the kind you can’t possibly put down. And often the characters in the stories also told stories, so the book-within-a-book feeling was strong here.

I did love picking out the threads of the traditional fairy tales amongst these reimagined ones! I could see Little Mermaid influences and the Nutcracker and Hansel and Gretel. But these are actually very different and quite dark. I really enjoyed the darker twists with monsters under castles and mermaids doing magic and evil men getting comeuppance for their horrible ways. And the best part? They were full of plot twists. No irritating or tedious fairy tale tropes here with damsels or falling for the first prince you meet or every step-mother being evil. Beauty isn’t everything. Princes suck. The beast is actually kind. Here is the sea witch’s origin story. The dark woods are not the only problem here. And on it goes!

It captivated me on every page with how amazing it was. The writing was detailed and clever too.

The actual physical book itself is also a pure delight to look at. The pages are illustrated and they add such depth to the story. There are some panels in the borders that change as the book goes on, so if you flip the pages really fast, it’s a stop-motion image of darkness covering a princess! Some of the double-page spreads were just so amazing and the style is simple but so emotional and lovely.

The Language of Thorns is full of fairy tales as they should be. They’re dark and feminist and empowering and filled with women who can be good or evil or morally grey or just seriously complex. There are monsters and wooden dolls with identity crises and queer girls and endless endless magic that just inspires me. You’ll fill so full of magic when you finish this!

Perception – The Power of Picture Book Point of View

Picture books have an immense power and ability to relay subject matter in a range of perspectives. How young developing minds perceive the world around them helps them make sense of themselves as well as those living in worlds different from theirs. The following picture books all support themes of perception in the most tender and winsome ways.

The Cloudspotter by Tom McLaughlin

A young boy seeks solace in spotting clouds and the adventures they enshroud. His imaginative blue-sky sojourns stave loneliness until he encounters The Scruffy Dog whom he feels is after his cloud sanctuaries for herself. He plots to remove her but when she is no longer beside him, realises that both she and he had been searching for something else all along.

A beautifully illustrated succinct look at imagination, friendship and viewing things from a different point of view. A must read.

Bloomsbury June 2015

Ollie’s Treasures by Lynn Jenkins & Kirrili Lonergan Continue reading Perception – The Power of Picture Book Point of View

Picture Books to Help and Heal

When you’re feeling a little lost, a little broken, or need a helping hand, what better way to lift you up than with a few beautiful, encouraging books with a whole heap of sentiment and warmth. Here are a few newbies you’ll want to hold close to your heart.

The Whirlpool, Emily Larkin (author), Helene Magisson (illus.), Wombat Books, May 2017.

When one moment shifts into another, without warning, and your world suddenly seems like a foreign place. This emotional whirlpool, as it is described; can pluck you from a place of familiarity and warmth then spin you round until you’re left confused and displaced. The Whirlpool considerately and sensitively addresses this sentiment without needing a definite cause; there doesn’t have to be some traumatic event for us to experience those ‘bad’ or isolated days. Because we all know happiness, sadness, loneliness and love, and here they are expressed beautifully through the eyes of a young polar bear cub.

Emily Larkin’s words are poetic-like. In their very being they stir up emotions in your soul. The simple sentences are sharp and carefully crafted for dramatic impact. Helene Magisson’s breathtaking illustrations almost literally wrap you up in this sensational vortex. Specifically defining moments are highlighted through her choice of visual layout and colour. Vast scenes define both feelings of joy and desolation, and focal sequences display proudness and a tiring endurance. And with Helene’s characteristically alluring charm and symbolic nuances, the significance of the yellow scarf cleverly ties the changing moods and atmospheric conditions altogether.

The Whirlpool is, funnily enough, a gentle and hopeful tale, reassuring its primary school aged readers that experiencing a range of feelings and challenges in their life can be helpful in navigating their individual journeys. This is explained further by helpful notes at the back of the book. So, take a step back and watch a snippet of real life flash before you- this book is insightful, sincere and stunningly beautiful.

Nanna’s Button Tin, Dianne Wolfer (author), Heather Potter (illus.), Walker Books, June 2017.

The sentimentality of a little piece of plastic, primarily used to hold material together, may mean little to some, but for others, buttons hold a lifetime of memories. Nanna’s Button Tin is brimming with warm and fuzzy goodness, of special intergenerational bonds and precious reminders of the past.

For a little girl, Nanna’s button tin holds the key to healing her Teddy’s much-needed amending. And she has the added comfort of being fulfilled with stories of love as she searches for the perfect round, brown button for Teddy’s eye. The tiny yellow button reminds Nanna of the day the little girl was born. The bear-shaped button was worn on her birthday jumper when she was three. The sparkly green one signifies the connection between her grandparents. Whilst the silver angel button helped bring her back to health when she was sick. With Teddy finally fixed, the button tin and all its contents are replaced on the shelf for another day of memorable moments.

With heartfelt dialogue between the characters, and superbly detailed, realistic and warm illustrations, Nanna’s Button Tin contains a pile of love and a beautifully familiar homely feel. This book will be adored, shared and reflected upon by its preschool-aged audience, and their grandparents, many times over. Certainly one to replenish all the warmth in your heart.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex (author), Angela Perrini (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, June 2017.

Another story told through the eyes of a child is Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles. And what a vision she has! Initially, though, Ava is self conscious about her glasses and won’t wear them in class. But with Mrs Cook’s bright and imaginative attitude, things have never looked the same. Presenting a page from various fairy tales to Ava, much like watching an oversized movie screen, the teacher explains how glasses would have helped the characters avoid their problems in the story. Featuring Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty and more, Ava soon realises that in order to perceive the world clearly, she will need to ‘see’ the world clearly.

I love the enthusiasm and energy throughout the text, inviting readers and listeners to join in and ponder these sentiments. There is that subtle coercion that adults attempt to convince children of what is best, but the tale is written so playfully and creatively that it just feels like pure entertainment. The illustrations are equally jovial, colourful and expressive, and particularly visually large and easy-on-the-eye to suit its purpose.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles is fantastically fun, full of familiar fairy tale delights. It is perfect for children from age four, and especially providing a shining light for those with vision impairments to feel confident and secure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

List of YA Alice in Wonderland Retellings

If there’s one thing I absolutely adore it’s: fairy tale retellings. And what could be better than an entire list of Alice in Wonderland retellings?! Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland is such a classic and it’s inspired so many writers to work madly at their own versions, from prequels to sequels to reinventions of the original tale completely. I love it! I can’t get enough! And just in case you can’t get enough either, I have compiled a list for you.

May we all think of six impossible things before breakfast and fight our daily Jabberwockies.

(Also see my list of Peter Pan retellings!)

 

ALICE IN WONDERLAND RETELLINGS


9781925479478HEARTLESS

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Written by the NYT bestselling author of the Lunar Chronicles — this is a prequel story from the point of view of the Queen of Hearts! You know that lovely lady who says “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS” frequently throughout the Alice tales? Yup. Here she is. But before she was a head chopping queen, she was called Cath and loved to bake. This is one of the most delicious books in existence basically since it’s loaded with delicious foodie descriptions. Expect desserts, mad tea parties, and a Victorian setting with balls and talking cats and a swoon-worthy Joker that might just steal a girl’s heart.


9781419706271SPLINTERED

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This is an “after Alice” sort of story and centres around one of Alice’s descendants, a girl named Alyssa who is visited each night by a wickedly charming moth named Morpheus who means to lure her into Wonderland to fight evil and return Wonderland to its former glory. Except her magical moth boy guide isn’t being honest and Wonderland is out to, well, kill all the things. This is a retelling worthy of Tim Burton’s dark and twisted Alice movies. It’s beyond brilliant and the descriptions are so lush and entrancing!


9780008175399QUEEN OF HEARTS

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Another tale that starts with the origin story of the Queen of Hearts before she was into lopping off heads. (This is a popular point of view it seems.) It follows the story of Dinah, an unloved and neglected princess who must suffer with her royal father’s maliciousness and try to stay ahead of enemies that want to kill her, all the while vying for the throne. Life ain’t easy when your royalty apparently.


25926238MAD ABOUT THE HATTER

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This one takes a sequel sort of approach and follows the brother of the original Alice as he too loses his way into Wonderland. Henry isn’t exactly fond of nonsense and magical worlds, but he accidentally gets caught up in Wonderland and ends up being taken to the Red Queen by none other than the Mad Hatter. The two hate each other as they journey through Wonderland until they gradually find hate turning to love. It features a lovely whimsical Wonderland and grand character development and a romance to fall for.


9780142409411THE LOOKING GLASS WARS

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What if Alice wasn’t really a girl falling through a rabbit hole into Wonderland? What if she was a princess and on the run from her evil aunt (the Red Queen) before she’s murdered for her crown?! This is a very imaginative approach to the original tale and completely changes everything. It features wars and conspiracies and Alice trying to convince a writer of her tale and reclaim her kingdom.

Review: Untamed (Splintered #3.5) by AG Howard

I am an extremely huge fan of AG Howard’s Splintered series! It all wrapped up last year with Ensnared and left me to wilt quietly and sadly with nooooo more delicious Wonderland retellings in my life. UNTIL UNTAMED WAS ANNOUNCED! HURRAH! Untamed is a companion book: basically short stories about Wonderland. It’s only a small book (200-pages) but it was perfectly delicious to return to Wonderland and catch up with Morpheus, Alyssa, and Jeb. I am a wild wonderlandish fan.

 

25105196Alyssa Gardner went down the rabbit hole and took control of her destiny. She survived the battle for Wonderland and the battle for her heart. In this collection of three novellas, join Alyssa and her family as they look back at their favourite memories of Wonderland. In Untamed, Alyssa recalls the most precious moments of her human life with Jeb and her immortal life with Morpheus. Alyssa’s mother reminisces about her own time in Wonderland and how she gave up the crown to rescue the man who would become her husband in The Boy in the Web. And Morpheus delves into Jeb’s memories of the events of Splintered in The Moth in the Mirror, available in print for the first time.

PURCHASE HERE

I’ll go through each story although: WARNING! They may contain slight spoilers from previous books in the series! Obviously no spoilers about Untamed itself though!

Morpheus takes the jacket…”I’m going to miss your bumbling attempts at wordplay.”
Jeb forces a smile. “Not as much as I’ll miss your pompous-ass condescension.”
“You two want to be alone?” I ask.

 

THE BOY IN THE WEB:
This one is Alyssa’s mother’s story. It’s from her POV and it gives backstory on how she went “crazy” and when she rescued Thomas from the spider’s lair and her first forays into Wonderland. It was intensely interesting to see Morpheus teasing her and luring her deeper into magical worlds and I loved the backstory!

THE MOTH IN THE MIRROR:
Although this, like all of AG Howard’s works, was perfectly written — I’m kind of disappointed it’s not about Morpheus!! I mean, he is the moth right?! But it’s actually Morpheus looking through some memories of Jeb. It fills in questions I had from Splintered (!! yay !!) but I was marginally put out that it wasn’t 100% about my dear precious Morph the Moth. And, I admit, I’m #TeamMorpheus all the way…but I still enjoyed knowing more about Jeb’s motivations behind his sacrifices and seeing him floundering alone in Wonderland.

SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS:
Okay this is the story I was waiting for. Basically desperately longing for. WEDDINGS TIME. The ending(s) I wanted in Ensnared are shared right here! Although Jeb’s story was longer than Morpheus’? I feel like the author has a preference here…(I joke! I joke!) But I couldn’t ask for a more perfect ending. The last 100 pages were my absolute favourite. The glorious beauty and rabidness of Wonderland was out in FULL FORCE and basically all the happy feels and dreams coming true. The scenery and vivid description were breath taking as always. The best conclusion ever.

 

“You’re exquisite. You’re transcendent. And you are mine.”

Overall it was a solidly good set of novellas. It could’ve been a bit more? I would’ve loved more backstory on Morpheus, actually, instead of Alyssa’s mother…but we can’t have everything I suppose. I’m going to miss Wonderland, but thank goodness AG Howard is writing more books (Phantom of the Opera retelling, apparently!) because her writing is divinely delicious. Also Untamed is rather sexy and steamy (while still keeping to YA of course) so all the romantics-at-heart will be pleased.

 

Note: You need to read the trilogy BEFORE these novellas!

Classics to cherish – Old tale picture book reviews

Don’t you love that emphatic certainty a below-twelve year-old has whenever they hear a remix of a song dating from the golden oldie era? ‘They got that song from such and such movie, Mum!’ Um well, no actually it was around way before me…Stories evoke similar conviction.

Alice in Wonderland 150thModern retellings of classic children’s stories might seem like a cheeky waste of time, but timeless tales and parables reclothed in sleek modern attire have an astonishing way of finding hanging space in a child’s heart. After all, they are encountering these tales for the first time. Sharing golden oldies with them is a sure fire way of rekindling your love for favourite tales as well. Here are a handful of ‘new’ classics to curl up with together.

We begin our journey with Alice in Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole. This is a large substantial picture book retelling of Lewis Carroll’s spectacularly well-known fantasy tale from the late eighteen hundreds.

Alice in Illo spreadLoud and outlandish like the very bizarre world Alice plummets unexpectedly into, this re-telling commemorates the 150th Anniversary of Alice’s journey. Many of the most famous phrases are included in a parred down text, which showcases some of Carroll’s most notable characters: Alice, the White Rabbit, and The blue Caterpillar.

Ever changing, yet strangely familiar and forever charming, Eric Puybaret’s dashingly abstract illustrations establish just the right amount of plausibility for our wide-eyed, take-it-as-it-comes adverturine, Alice. An excellent pre-emptive introduction for littlies before they embark on the original version.

Retold by Joseph Rhatigan and Charles Nurnberg

Koala Books February 2015

The Velveteen RabbitIn keeping with le Lapin theme, The Velveteen Rabbit is a sublime re-release of the 1922 classic children’s story by Margery Williams Bianco. Lovers of the Toy Story notion that toys have their own very real wants and needs just like to their young owners will coo with delight over this bedside tale. The Velveteen Rabbit will melt the strongest of hearts with its ‘nursery magic is strange and wonderful’ credence.

Velveteen illo spread Bianco’s original text is faithfully reproduced and swathed in the softest, silken images befitting this dreamy tale by first time picture book illustrator, Helen Magisson. Subtle and sweet enough to want to take up and cuddle, the charm of The Velveteen Rabbit will ‘last for always’. Read our full Boomerang review and interview with Helene Magisson, here.

New Frontier Publishing March 2015

The Ugly DucklingSlipping a CD into a picture book is a natty little bonus that enlivens a tale and adds extra dimension to its delivery. Justine Clarke is no stranger to delivering entertaining songs and stories to children and it’s her interpretation of this song adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale classic, The Ugly Duckling, that youngsters are going to warm to.

Written by Frank Loesser, this rendition is the same snappy paced version sung by the late Danny Kaye in the 1952 movie, Hans Christian Anderson.

The illustrations of Nathaniel Eckstrom are visually enchanting and bring to life the tale of a socially ousted signet that matures into the most beautiful and noble of all the creatures on the pond.

Justine ClarkeA timeless tale enhanced and best appreciated with the accompanying CD performance.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

Henny PennySpeaking of timeless tales, The Once Upon a Timeless Tale collection by Little Hare Books gives children several fairy-tale titles to choose from in handy-to-hold sized, hard covered picture books with plenty of child and bookshelf appeal.

Hugely collectable, stories of yesteryear are retold in a simply laid out style, which confident readers can easily tackle themselves. Pre-schoolers will appreciate snuggling up with a new tale each night and get a kick of the beguilingly beautiful artwork accompanying each tale by various well-known illustrators such as Tamsin Ainslie, Ann Walker and Anna Pignataro to name but a few.

Henny Penny, the tale of an apprehensive hen who predicted the end of the world when she felt a bit of the sky fall on her tail, is one in a list of many familiar stories; Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, The Princess and the Pea and Jack and the Beanstalk amongst many many Timeless Tales Collectionothers. They come in CD audio versions as well. Find your favourites and please don’t forget to share them!

Little Hare Books, HGE 2014

 

Player Profile: Kate Forsyth, author of The Wild Girl

Kate H-S smlKate Forsyth, author of The Wild Girl

Tell us about your latest creation:

THE WILD GIRL tells the story of star-crossed lovers Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales. Set during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars, THE WILD GIRL is a tale of love, desire, heartbreak and the redemptive power of storytelling.

9781741668490Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Sydney, Australia

When you were a kid, what did you want to become? An author?:

I’ve always wanted to be an author, I’ve never wanted to be anything else. I wrote my first book at the age of seven.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I’m very proud of THE WILD GIRL, which is the most difficult and challenging book I’ve ever written. I poured everything I have into it, and I’m so glad that so many people are
loving it so much.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I write in a book-lined study with a view across my garden to the ocean.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read a wide range of different books, though my favourite genre is historical fiction.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

I loved authors such as C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken, Geoffrey Trease and Rosemary Sutcliff.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I’d want to be a literary character that made their living writing books, travelling the world telling stories, and was madly in love with their life … but as I can’t think of a single book with such a character, I guess I’ll just have to stay being me.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I love my garden and I love to cook. I love music and theatre and the ballet. Most of all, I love to travel and have adventure and tell stories.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A fine sparkling wine will always make me happy, especially if taken with a little smoked salmon and caviar.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I love all the women writers whose books are being read all around the world.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

Being heard above the clamour of voices all shouting their stories to the world.

Website URL: www.kateforsyth.com.au
Blog URL: http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/kates-blog
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/kateforsythauthor