Reem's Recreational Reads

Creative writing graduate, amateur folklorist, artist and Tolkien enthusiast. I'm passionate about good story-telling and read all forms of fiction (but mostly literary, fantasy & YA) & folklore books. This is my first book blog.

Stunning Debut for and Adult Novel by Oliver

Rooms - Lauren Oliver

“Rooms” was the first book that introduced me to the writing of Lauren Oliver; it was also her debut novel written for adults.

 

It begins after the death of a prosperous man named Richard Walker. This incident triggers a concatenation of events starting with the return of Mr. Walker's estranged family to his old manor, which sets the stage for the book. Almost every scene and reminiscence takes place within one of the house’s many rooms, and the structure is still inhabited by two ethereal – and more or less permanent – residents: the moralistic, strait-laced Alice, and the derisive Sandra. They are the two main narrators of the novel. However, members of the newly-arrived family also have chapters told from their points of view. Slowly, secrets begin to emerge, and the reader discovers that the pasts of many intertwine and the veil between life and death is blurred.

 

What captivated me most about Oliver’s book was the originality of her portrayal of the afterlife. For example, the mansion that the ghosts haunt is their “body.” Every room is like a limb (the staircase is their spine; the pipes are their intestines, etc.).

 

I also relished the author’s beautiful, lyrical prose. She weaves together events of the present and the past and illustrates each of the character’s unique personalities effortlessly. The result is a fictional masterpiece: a tapestry that fuses elements of multiple genres to challenge the cliché of the traditional ghost story. Oliver leaves some aspects of her novel open to the interpretation of her readers, which made it even more appealing to me.

 

“Rooms” is a ghost story, a love story, a story brimming with secrets and enigmas buried deep within the narrative’s surface and its colourful, many-layered characters. But in a lot of ways, it is also a family drama. Anyone who enjoys great story-telling and unravelling mysteries will love this book.

So let’s raise our glasses to the accident season,
To the river beneath us where we sink our souls,
To the bruises and the secrets, To the ghosts in the
ceiling,
One more drink for the watery road.
The Accident Season - Moïra Fowley-Doyle

The "exquisite corpse" poem written by the heroine, her sister, her ex-stepbrother and her best friend in the novel. It is creepy, disturbing and perfect for the themes the story slowly unravels as it progresses. Secrets; lots of dark secrets. 

A Book Of Fairies - Katharine Mary Briggs

Short Summery: A delightful, if somewhat brief, compilation and introduction to the study of fairy lore by the renown folklorist Katharine M. Briggs. It is comprised of 30% short essays on the basic issues that scholars studying fairy lore often research (the origin of fairy beliefs, time in Fairyland, protection against fairy charms, Changelings, etc.) and of 70% tales, poems and recorded sightings of fairies in the British Isles from medieval times up until as recently as the late 1800s. All the material in this book is taken from Ms. Brigg's most famous work, "A Dictionary of Fairies," which provides more sightings, folk tales and MUCH more detail as well as references and a comprehensive bibliography, which this book unfortunately lacks.

 

Important to Keep In Mind: This is by no means a book of children's fairy tales. Don't expect to find stories about tiny, cute fairies dressed in pink tutus and tiaras that fly about waving magic wands. Unfortunately, this is how the popular culture of today's word depicts them to make them safe and fun for children. Some of the tales and sightings in this book can be dark, frightening and even tragic while only a few offer happy endings. I do not recommend this book for small children, but I believe that older children might enjoy hearing some the tales and having their socks scared off.

 

Katherine Briggs' work is meant for scholarly research and explores the fairy beliefs of various cultures, but mostly the UK, from ancient times up until near-present day. Unlike today's sickly sweet fairies, the fairies of these cultures varied in their physical appearences and demeanors: they could be tall and fair or diminutive and ugly. They could be kind and helpful towards mortals or bitter, jealous and mischievous. What is fascinating is that the belief in fairies in these cultures, especially in the past, was shared by both adults and children. Fairies were as real to them as the sun in the sky is real to you and me. The stories were a part of their heritage and everyday lives.

 

What I loved about it: The selection of tales, poems and sightings were varied and I loved that they were taken from different corners of the UK. It was interesting to note the similarities and differences in the sightings, especially. You will even find that some of the tales have similar plots to fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm! The book is perfect for people who wish to begin their journey into the scholarly study of fairy lore or anyone interested in fairies and/or folk tales in general. It is compact (about the length and width of a person's hand) and light, making it extremely portable. You could store it in a purse or even the pocket of a sweater or jacket if it is wide enough.

 

What I didn't like so much: As I have written above, the book lacks any references, making it difficult for the newbie student of fairy lore to continue his/her education without some (or a lot of) Internet research. I wish the section of essays contained more from the "Dictionary of Fairies" to give a little more background to the reader on the fairy behavior and taboos. I would have like to see more illustrations taken from the Dictionary to embellish some of the tales and poems.

 

Overall Verdict: Although I enjoyed it, It was merely an okay introduction to the study of fairy lore, especially for the absolute beginner student. It is definitely a good place to start. You can find used copies on amazon, ebay, abe books, biblio, and other similar websites for acceptable prices. I would have given it 4 stars had it not been for the cons listed above. I recommend purchasing the Dictionary of Fairies if you are looking for more information and references.

Manga Classics: Pride & Prejudice Softcover - Jane Austen

I will try to approach this review with an open mind, although the 2005 "Pride and Prejudice" movie has already ruined me for life (Hellooooo hunky Matthew Macfadyen!!!). First of all, I am of a strong opinion that classics should not be adapted into manga; and should only be adapted into graphic novels if they stay absolutely true to the novels. They lose a lot of their authenticity in the process. With that being said, this is a good (not great) adaptation of Jane Austin's most famous work, although by no means a match for the original. I recommend it to female tweens and younger teens as a means of easing into Jane Austin's novels. However, I don't believe young adults or adults will enjoy it as much. In fact, hard core middle-aged women might consider it blasphemy. So, let's break it down:


Pros: Much of the original plot has been preserved. So if you have a literature test tomorrow and don't have time to read the book, this is the next best thing to Sparknotes. Also, the artwork is breathtaking! It was perhaps my favorite aspect of the book. The artist has a unique style: most of the figures are tall and elegant, the flowers, trees, furniture, the costumes… almost everything is drawn with exquisite detail. The art portrays Victorian England's culture well enough and greatly adds to the storytelling. If you are an admirer of Japanese manga-style art, this book might be worth purchasing or at least checking out at a library.

 

Cons: The language has been simplified to tailor to a younger audience. This didn't ruin my reading experience, but I was disappionted because it took away from the Jane Austin-y-ness of the book. At times, the conversations between characters seemed incomplete, silly or awkward. If you have read the novel or seen the film, there are some familiar, well-known phrases that you will recognize, but that have been shortened and/or changed slightly. And though the characters are portrayed physically how you would imagine them to be in the book, I felt a lot of them were not three dimensional and/or deviated from their personalities in the book. A good example of this is Mr. Collin's character: here, he is jolly and always smiling, while in the book and movie, he is portrayed as a serious, gloomy kind of person.

 

Verdict: It was not as enjoyable as I hoped it would be, especially since I am perhaps older than the targeted audience of readers, but it was fun and different. Also, if you are a die-hard Jane Austin fan or a person who would always prefer the original to adaptations, you will enjoy it even less. I do believe it would make a great gift for some young girls, though. If they are into classic romance and/or manga.

"The Mermaid Bride and Other Orkney Folk Tales"

The Mermaid Bride and Other Orkney Folk Tales - Tom Muir

     Disclaimer: In accordance with FTC Guidelines for blogging and endorsements: The book reviewed has been purchased by me and the opinions I have expressed are my own. All quotes from “The Mermaid Bride” are the property of Tom Muir©.

 

 

     Short summary:This is a well-researched, varied collection of folk tales retold by the author and is as entertaining as it is informative. It’s a hidden gem among the many books about Scottish folklore that line the mythology section of bookstore shelves. I highly recommend it to serious students of UK folklore who wish to learn more about Orkney's stories and traditions as well as children who love fairy tales. The pages are filled with fantastic tales of magic, Selkies, Giants, ghosts, Fin Folk, Mermaids, Trows (fairies) that will leave you completely enthralled. If you are familiar with Norse mythology, you will notice its influence on some of the legends. Vikings had invaded the Isles and lived there for a time among the natives long ago. You will even find that Christianity plays a role in some tales. I fell in love with the illustrations or Bryce Wilson. They are all done with a black pen using the stippling technique. They are incredibly detailed and give his artwork a nice texture as well as a three-dimensional impression due to his excellent shading method.

     

     

     Book Contents: The book begins with the “Acknowledgements” page, followed by an introduction by the author, Tom Muir. He explains that his purpose of writing this book was to preserve Orkney's heritage and compile as many folk stories as he could find into one place for fear that all the ancient tales would be lost in time. I believe that he has not only achieved his goal, but also composed a classic that will lay on the bedside tables of many Orkney children for their mothers to read to them for years to come. Following the introductions is “The Creatures of Orkney Folklore” section which provides short descriptions of the mythical characters featured in the tales. I recommend you read this section if you are not familiar with Orkney folklore. Otherwise, it will be difficult to understand who or what the author is portraying in the tales, which follow right after this section. After the main text, the collection of folk tales, there is a small segment titled “Short Stories from Old Lore Miscellaneous” and one labelled “Ernest Marwick Papers, Orkney Archives of the Orkney Library, D31” and finally the “BBC Radio Orkney Archives” before the bibliography which is designated “Notes and Sources.” As you can see, the author has provided an abundance of resources as well as explanations at the beginning and end of the book for readers to make the concepts of the folk tales easier to grasp and for those who wish to further their study of Orkney traditions and folklore.

 

   

     Writing and Analysis of Tales: The language is simple, but combined with the author’s unique style, a natural a story-telling voice which captures the essence of the settings in which the stories take place and forms authentic dialogues between the characters, gives a certain kind of charm to these tales as well as a faithful ambiance to the originals. They invoke emotions of love, loss, wonder, caution and even a bit of humour. Some tales are short, less than a page long, while others exceed three pages. I found that the narration is similar to that of fairy tales. Most stories have a theme or lesson which is conveyed either directly or subtly. My favorite sayings are: "A close tongue keeps a safe head" and "She shaped her own cloth, now let her wear her ill-fitting dress!" The tales are more plot-driven and the protagonists generally do not play a large part and are not particularly well-rounded. The choices these characters make, external supernatural forces and/or entities are what move the story forward. Supporting characters are not mentioned much and rarely influence the events which occur. If you keep in mind that you are reading a book of folktales, not a collection of short fiction, you will enjoy the book regardless. There is plenty of adventure to be found: discoveries of hidden islands and an underwater kingdom, the exploration of the wild, rich and untamed Orkney landscape, which is depicted in Mr. Muir's brilliant execution of story-telling.

 

     I would have given the book five stars, had it not been for some minor details:

 

     Toward the end of the book, there was an increase in common grammatical errors (misuse of punctuation, not capitalizing the first words of sentences, etc.). Also, the language in the tales also did not seem to flow as smoothly as they did earlier in the book. Everything felt somewhat rushed. Also, some factors in the tales were difficult to comprehend and made no sense at all to me. I understand and appreciate that they were told this way years ago, but one wonders if the original storytellers at the time had not been experiencing some drug-induced episode similar to a bad acid trip. A good example to support my opinion is the story "Good Neighbours of Greenie Hill." When a stampede of pigs suddenly appears out of nowhere in your house and starts squealing next to your feet, then one carries you off to see fairies, you know something is out of whack. I will say no more on the matter


     

     Verdict: I genuinely enjoyed every moment I spent reading this book. I also learned a lot about the folklore of Orkney and a little about the customs of the people who lived there in the past. I loved the stories toward the beginning of the book most of all, which are creation myths that portray how Orkney came to be, as well as stories of Mermaids, Selkies and Fin Folk. But my absolute favorite tale was by far "Lady Odivre;" it was one of the most epic folk tales I had ever read. A oath made by Odin, a heartbroken lady, a brave knight in a faraway land, a Selkie King, a scandal... I will not spoil it for you. You have to read it.

 

 

     Recommended for: anyone interested in foklore, particularly the folklore of Scotland and Ireland. The stories of the Orkney Isles are not as well-known as those from the rest of the UK, but they should be. If not for the sake of scholarly research, then for the pure joy that they will no doubt bring you. In the future, I may edit my review, adding and omitting material to elaborate on my views more thoroughly as well as provide recommendations for further reading. But for now, I believe this will suffice.

 

     

     Quick note: if you decide to purchase this book, you should know it is printed by The Orcadian Limited (Kirkwall Press), and Orkney is an outlying group of Islands to the North of Scotland, it is a bit difficult to obtain a new copy in the US unless you order it online directly through the Orcadian Bookshop or special-order it through Waterstones or Blackwells. Otherwise, you can find used copies on amazon but they are more expensive.

Currently reading

The Last Days of Magic: A Novel by Mark L. Tompkins
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
Abbey Lubbers, Banshees, & Boggarts: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies by Katharine Mary Briggs, Yvonne Gilbert
Progress: 36/159pages
Skye: The Island and Its Legends by Otta F. Swire
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Scottish Folk-Tales and Legends by Barbara Ker Wilson
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
The World of Ice and Fire: The Official History of Westeros and The World of A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Linda Antonsson, Elio M. Garcia jr.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Progress: 200/432pages
Three Hearts And Three Lions by Poul Anderson