Snow White, Blood Red (Ed. by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)

Snow White, Blood Red is an anthology of fairy tale retellings for adults, editted by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. It’s the first of a series of anthologies.

Overall, the anthology is very good. Of course, as in any anthology, there were stories I liked better than others but the quality of all of them was very high. Datlow as well as Windling provide introductions and there’s an appendix of recommended reading, which is pretty awesome. If you like fairy tale retellings, fantasy/SciFi and a little bit of horror, you will love this book.

As usual, I’ll go through the stories one by one.

snowwhitebloodred

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Stardust (Neil Gaiman)

Stardust is one of Neil Gaiman‘s novels. [It was also adapted to the big screen a couple of year ago.] [And, *sniff*, it’s the last of Gaiman’s novels (except Good Omens) that I hadn’t read… now, there’s only the comics…]

Plot:
Tristran lives in a small town in England called Wall. Wall gets its name from a wall that divides our world from the world of Faerie. One day, a star falls from the sky and into Faerie and Tristran promises the girl he is in love with, Victoria, to bring him this star – if she will give him anything he wants in return. So Tristran goes into Faerie…

Stardust is very different from everything else Gaiman has written. It’s a fairy Faerie tale and equally light hearted and funny and moralistic and dark. It’s full of lovable characters and not-so lovable but still great characters. And the story is really sweet.

stardust

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Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman)

Fragile Things is a short story collection by Neil Gaiman. It has a few poems as well. [Here are my other reviews of Gaiman books.]

There are some fairy tales (retellings), which I like. But especially interesting in this collection are two sequels – The Problem of Susan (which deals with Narnia and the discarding of Susan) and The Monarch of the Glen (which is a sequel to American Gods).

Fragile Things is another really great collection. Of course, there are some differences in quality between the stories, but altogether, it is very nice.

[Oh yeah, and because I was asked: I think Smoke and Mirrors is more consistently good than Fragile Things, but Fragile Things has some better stories than Smoke and Mirrors.]

Let me talk about each of the stories seperately.

fragilethings

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And In Other News

Neil Gaiman will write 3 non-fiction books. One will be about his travels in China recently, somehow based on and/or referring to “Journey to the West” by Wu Cheng’en [which sounds like a very cool read itself, btw]. The other two will be based on his blog.

But people – like me – who are anxiously waiting for an adult novel of his to come out, despair not! Here’s what he says on his blog:

(…) in case people were wondering, it doesn’t mean I’ll now write three non-fiction books; it’ll probably be a non-fiction, then an adult novel, then an all-ages book, then another non-fiction book…

 Yay! Only 2-3 years!

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)

All of you, who read my blog at least semi-regularly, will know that I’m a Neil Gaiman fan. So, of course, I bought his new book The Graveyard Book right away. [If you want to know more details: I got the hardcover adult edition, illustrated by Dave McKean.]

The book is about Bod, short for Nobody, Owens. His parents are killed by the man Jack and he is adopted and raised by some ghosts on a graveyard near his home. Each chapter is one short story, which could more or less stand alone, describing one event in his life. They are all set at one, two years intervals.

I liked the book, and I basically gobbled it up.

The illustrations are wonderful, but I wouldn’t expect any less from Dave McKean.

It’s a sweet story, but the story alone wouldn’t be much, I’m afraid. What makes the book good are the details. The way Bod finds his way around the graveyard, using the headstone inscriptions. The headstone inscriptions themselves. Silas [I really, really loved that character and the way he’s described]. The Jacks.

Bod stays a bit intangible, which is probably what Gaiman was going for: Bod has a ghostlike quality to him, it’s not easy to grasp him as a character. While this is a great concept, it makes it really hard to get Bod, to understand him and feel with him, which are necessary prerequisites to wanting him to succeed and to fight for him and to love him.

And I think that’s the crux of the whole book – I realise it’s a great piece of writing, but I couldn’t find an entry point that made me love it. [Which, btw, is equally true of The Jungle Book for me, so I guess he was very successful in his homage.] I know that that’s a very personal perception, therefore, my recommendation still stands.

Personally, I wish, Gaiman would go back to writing novels for adults… I like his children’s books, no doubt about it. But what made me fall in love with his work are his novels for adults. And I would like to read something in that category again.

Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill

Joe Hill is one of the sons of Stephen King. I just found out, so, that’s not why I picked the book. [I picked it because I like horror stories and it had a blurb by Neil Gaiman.] And it’s not like he writes like his father, so you don’t read the novel and are all like “oh, he tries to copy Stephen King”.

Right, back to the topic at hand.

Heart-Shaped Box is the story of Judas Coyne, an ageing rock star [think a stronger, younger today Ozzy Osbourne], who buys a ghost over the internet for his collection of the occult. Unfortunately, it’s not the nice variety of ghost and things start to get out of hand.

The book is scary and gripping and well written. His style is very movie-like [and I, apparently, was not the only one to pick this up].

Jude and Georgia/Marybeth are great characters, very real. You really want them to survive, to win. And both their stories, but especially Jude’s, are like a text book example [in a good way] for character development.

Hill manages to include almost every kind of abuse into his story. At least, that’s what it feels like. Let me tell you, people are evil.

Unfortunately, Hill has a bit of a tendency to slip into clichés [the grandmother, goths in general, the assistant] and the ending almost ruins the whole thing.

[SPOILER WARNING]

They need to make a door to let the ghost of Jude’s ex defeat the murderous ghost, who happens to be her father. And how do they make the door? Jude paints it in blood. And the thing won’t open until he paints it a doorknob.

And I know I have seen that before. [I’m thinking it was in Beetle Juice, but I’m not sure.] Things like that bug me. A lot. Think of your own solutions! And if you don’t, at least don’t use the same twists.

And then the good light that comes to destroy the bad ghost, that was a tad too much as well.

[END SPOILERS]

But that was not the only thing that bothered me about the ending. It all seemed so strained.

Another detail that made me smirk more than it actually bothered me, was the product placement for ebay. to clarify: I don’t know if Hill got paid for it or not, but it was always like “Oh, if I had bought this ghost on ebay, I could send it back now”.

But none of this could change that the first 350 pages of the book were great, the ghost(s) really scary and that altogether, I liked the book.

[And maybe Joe Hill and Stephen King have more in common – Stephen King’s endings are usually the weakest thing about his books as well. ;)]

Odd and the Frost Giants (Neil Gaiman)

Odd and the Frost Giants is a children’s book/short story by Neil Gaiman, which he has written for World Book Day. It’s illustrated by Mark Buckingham (of Fables fame) and the pictures are beautiful. And it only costs € 1,99. What more could you ask for?

The story is sweet and Odd is even sweeter. I also like the nordic mythology stuff (in general), so that was nice to have.

Gaiman’s prose, as usual, is clear and crisp and wonderful.

The only problem I had was that it was much too short.

[Up next on my To Read Pile: The Graveyard Book]

Important and Wonderful and Cool

Dear people,

the one and only Mr. Neil Gaiman and his publisher Harper-Collins gave us another one of his books. This time it’s Neverwhere. For free. Online AND downloadable. Although:

The bad news is you don’t get to keep it forever. It’s yours for thirty days from download, and then the pdf file returns to its electrons. But if you’ve ever wondered about Neverwhere or wanted to read it for free, now is your chance. And free is free…

Neverwhere is wonderful. It’s one of my favourites (then again, most Gaiman books are my favourites) and you really should read it.

Oh, yeah. You can find it here. CLICK, CLICK!

And another thing: His new book’s out soon! September 30th, to be exact. YAY!

Too long?

So, I found this quote on Papercuts:

Finished “Anna Karenina” finally. Marvelous and all-encompassing, though less marvelous and less all-encompassing (can something be less all-encompassing?) than Proust, and too long, like Mahler’s Ninth. Both Tolstoy and Mahler say little in their leisurely span that can’t be said more tersely — although terser they wouldn’t be Mahler and Tolstoy. Everything’s too long. Webern is too long. This paragraph is too long.

It’s taken from Ned Rorem‘s diary and I love it. [As someone who read Anna Karenina, I can agree that I wouldn’t have minded some shortening. Although, at the time, the length didn’t disturb me as much as the infinite number of typos I found in my version. Never will buy anything from that publisher again.]

Anyway, the article on Papercuts goes on to asking the question, if there were some books which you wished were longer [not without saying that The Dark Knight was too long and bad, something with which I really can not agree]. An interesting question, I think.

They cite Atonement, which was wonderful and I can agree that I would have loved to hear more about Robbie and Cecilia and their love story. But then again, almost all Ian McEwan novels (that I’ve read so far) are too short.

Other books I can think of are

  • J. M. Coetzee‘s Boyhood [which is probably what he has done with Youth, but I haven’t read that one yet]
  • Oscar Wilde‘s Fairy Tales [either by including more tales or by expanding the existing ones. Or both]
  • Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline [although I know that it’s a children’s book and children’s books are supposed to be short(er)]

That’s all I can think of right now. Any books you would like to see longer (or shorter)?

Mud, Rain and Good Music

On Thursday, I borrowed my parents’ company’s car (a VW van, just like it’s supposed to be, but newer and more comfortable) and set off with deadra and S. to the Frequency festival in Salzburg.

I removed the back seats in the van and put in some mattrasses, which actually made for a comfortable bed (at least much more comfortable than any tent would be. And drier). We got water and food that won’t turn bad without a fridge and arrived in Salzburg in the afternoon. We parked the car in a nice meadow and then the fun could begin.

Surprisingly, it was sunny and hot and as we walked (about a mile, I’d say) to the actual festival area on the Salzburg Ring (Formula 1 car race thingy), I thought about all the warm clothes I brought and if they were really necessary.

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