Your mission… Operation Fourth Story

My review today is for Apex Magazine and is part of Operation Fourth Story (details can be found over at the Little Red Reviewer).  Firstly, I will mention that I don’t tend to read a lot of short stories and in fact hardly ever read magazines – I don’t know whether I should feel ashamed of myself or not!  You tell me.  Anyway, I was given the opportunity to read the Book of Apex Vol 4 recently and I must say that some of the stories in there were pretty amazing – in fact I still have thoughts revolving around my bonce about some of them.  It made me realise that I’m definitely missing some incredibly good stories.  So, today I’m looking at Issue No.57 of Apex.  I confess I couldn’t resist this issue due to the cover.  I’m a sucker for good artwork and I love this one – I want to know about the girl in the picture.  Somebody write her story please.

Moving to the content.

The magazine starts with an introduction by the editor in chief which gives a brief outline of what to expect.  With this particular edition the stories and content revolve around post apocalyptic type stories focusing on the theme of family.  I particularly enjoyed the first two stories – Antumbra by Lucy A Snyder and Maria and the Pilgrim by Rich Larson.  As pointed out in the introduction both of these stories are about sisters, both very different, both quite startling (and where Antumbra is concerned – shocking) and both of them made me want more.  And that’s the main rub for me and short stories – when I find one I like, well, I just want more.  I’m a bit greedy like that.  Come on though – if you read these two stories you’ll want to know what happens next – in fact you’ll pretty much want to know what happened first.

However, the main eye opener for me reading issue No.57 was reading the article written by Wen Spencer entitled ‘So How Does it End’.  I never actually read non fiction.  Not really, well, apart from newspapers and instructions on how to assemble pieces of furniture!  And, I really enjoyed this.  I don’t know whether it’s because a lot of the examples written about felt very pertinent to me in that they seemed to be about things I’ve recently read about or feel strongly over but this article felt like it was actually written for me – like personally written to me!  This article dissects the human fascination with the end of the world. I recently read The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris which is a retelling from a different aspect of Norse mythology leading to Ragnarok – and the end of the world – mentioned here!  I also read The Song of Achilles about the downfall of Troy by Madeline Miller –  this piece talks about the original story the Iliad.  It moves on to Richard Matheson’s I am Legend – a book that I just can’t say enough good things about and most of my thoughts are written so much more eloquently in this piece than I could ever hope to achieve.  Really, Wen Spencer, it’s like you’ve been inside my brain!  Actually that’s a bit creepy – and actually it could make the beginnings of a story that would be perfect for Apex!

Anyway, this is definitely a unique review for me as I’ve never written anything about a magazine before and I confess I didn’t really know how to start or, for that matter, exactly what I would say.   I enjoyed this.  It was an eye opener.  It made me think that I shouldn’t make judgements about things without trying them and it made me think I could probably introduce a bit more non fiction into my reading which believe me I didn’t expect (I generally take my reading with a liberal dose of fantasy).  I think this is probably the real beauty of a magazine.  Maybe one of the stories won’t be for you or maybe the essay won’t capture your imagination – but there’s a choice and one of them might just surprise you like it did me!

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson – readalong week 2

537a7-wordsofradgroupread250Today is week two of a 10 week readalong of Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance arranged jointly by Dab of Darkness and Stainless Steel Droppings.  This book is already excellent – if you’re not joining in you might want to think about it!!  Alternatively, if you’ve already read this and just want to jump in with comments then that would be wonderful too.  (The schedule is here).  This week’s questions have come to us from Lisa at Over The Effing Rainbow so, without further ado:  (Oh, fyi – spoilers below, they’re like spren, if you read this they will pop up all over the place – spoilerspren!)

1. We learn a little more about Syl and her connection to Kaladin. There are more spren out there, ‘trying…to reclaim what was lost”.  Yet Syl was forbidden to come and chose to do it anyway.  What do you make of this new information?

I think the spren naturally want to save people from whatever is coming.  It sort of stands to reason in one respect.  Without people the spren would cease to exist wouldn’t they?  Well, maybe not cease to exist but it seems that there has to be some sort of conscious thought or action in order for them to appear. Plus, the ones that have attached themselves to humans seem to have a vested interest in helping them.

2. Chapter 10 is brief, yet intriguing – and kind of creepy!  It looks like Shallan was responsible for her mother’s death, among others, when she was young.  What are your thoughts on this scene?

I’m enjoying finding out more about Shallan to be honest and I like the way that Sanderson slowly reveals these snippets of information.  I’m not totally convinced about Shallan’s involvement.  Part of me thinks it clearly looks like she was involved but then I have this fascination to the ‘lying’ or perhaps more kindly, ‘being selective with the truth’, element to her character.  I suppose there’s a few scenarios – at least – was Shallan a witness to something horrible and lied to cover up the fact that she’d seen anything?  Did she imply that she was involved – and was that truth or not?  Or did she actually just murder her mother (and others).  Partly I don’t want to believe that she would be capable of that.  I didn’t initially like Shallan – simply because she intended to steal from Jasnah, but whether or not I think that was misguided she was doing this for what she believed to be the right reasons.  I don’t think she’s a malicious character at all but she’s clearly intelligent and capable of quick thinking so maybe she said what she needed at the time in order to protect herself.

3. Highlord Amaram is back, and still has Kaladin’s Shardblade.  He also seems to be close friends with Dalinar.  Do you think Kaladin will tell Dalinar what happened between them?  If so, what do you think might happen?

This is a very tricky situation and could certainly lead to a revelation about his hidden strengths – which is exactly what Kaladin fears.  Plus this is coming at a time when he already doubts himself and still thinks everything will still be taken from him.  Obviously they’re going to meet up eventually given Kaladin’s new role and Amaram will undoubtedly recognise Kaladin.  The fact that there is only Kaladin still alive will mean this is going to test Dalinar’s faith in him.  I really can’t think what will happen with this one!  Total wimp out!!

We get an Interlude with one of the Parshendi – the Shardbearer who fought Dalinar, a woman called Eshonai.  We finally get a real look at the Parshendi and learn more about what they’re doing on the Shattered Plains.  What are your thoughts on this?  We also learn that Eshonai wants to speak with Dalinar and sue for peace.  Do you think that’s likely to happen?

I thought it was brilliant getting the POV of the Parshendi.  They seem to fear whatever trouble is coming as much as everyone else.  I was totally gobsmacked about their very casual confirmation about Gavilar’s death.  I genuinely didn’t see that one coming!  Sanderson does it again – just when you think you’re starting to get to grips with what’s going on he throws a blinder and totally knocks you off.  It was also kind of sad that they’re becoming so depleted.  I don’t know, it made me see it from the other side I suppose.  All along the Parshendi have been the enemy in the story – and maybe they are – but if that’s the case they seem to have forgotten just as much as everyone else over the years.  Reading this Interlude made them seem, well, like everyone else  -  I can’t just mindlessly dislike them now! Yes they killed Gavilar – and I’m racking my brains to think of what his scheme was and how it relates to uniting everyone.  I kind of wondered if Gavilar was having the same visions as Dalinar is now having and maybe he thought he had to unite the Parshendi.  Anyway, time will tell.  I think if anyone would be likely to listen to the Parshendi it would be Dalinar.  He did love his brother and I think it would need some sort of explanation – not that that makes everything hunky dory, but, maybe the two sides do need to team up to face whatever is coming?

Adolin’s first duel doesn’t exactly go as anyone expected… What did you make of how it was won?  Do you think it will force people to take Adolin, and by extension Dalinar, more seriously?

It will be interesting to see what Dalinar makes of Adolin’s tactics – what with his codes, etc. I can’t help applauding Adolin to be honest.  They’re in desperate times, the clock is ticking and the Alethi highprinces are a bit of a joke really!  Something needs to shake them out of their reverie – whether that will be it remains to be seen but Adolin’s tactics certainly caught their attention.  He won’t get away with that a second time as there will be no element of surprise.  And, yes, I think it will make people sit up and take notice.

Such a lot happened this week!  Shallan and her ‘is she or isn’t she in a very tricky situation??  It was interesting to read Adolin’s thoughts – he seems to be looking forward to meeting her.

Also the chapter with the shoemaker – not sure of the relevance of that particular chapter just yet – very intrigued to find out who it was who killed the shoemaker at the end.

I was also interested in the lullaby that Shallan’s father was humming to her after the murder chapter! ‘Now go to sleep in chasms deep, with darkness all around you.  Though rock and dread may be your bed, so sleep my baby dear.  Now comes the story, but you’ll be warm, the wind will rock your basket.  The crystals fine will glow sublime, so sleep my baby dear.’  What on earth does that all mean. Yes, I don’t know – but ‘a problem shared’ and all that!!

Other participants:

Dab of Darkness    
Stainless Steel Droppings     
Over the Effing Rainbow     
Musingsonfantasia
Books Without any Pictures
Making my Mark
Coffee, Cookies and Chili Peppers

Are you one of a kind??

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This week at The Broke and the Bookish the theme is : ‘Top Ten Most Unique Books you’ve Read (maybe the MC was really different, maybe it was the way it was written, a very unique spin on a genre or topic, etc.)’.

  1. All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry – I just loved this story.  It’s told in a very unusual and captivating voice – almost as though the storyteller is recounting a story to somebody ‘you never looked at me’ or ’you swept your hair from your eyes’, etc.  The story just completely grabbed my attention from beginning to end.
  2. Longbourn by Jo Baker – a favourite classic told from a different perspective.  This was so good and for me a really original way of looking at these stories with fresh eyes – I could read lots of classics retold in this way!
  3. Twleve by Jasper Kent – this is one of those novels that takes you back into the good old fashioned realm of ‘proper’ vampires – nasty, smelly and evil, will definitely drain your body of blood but they like to play with their food a bit first!!  *be afraid*
  4. Witch Light – first book I read by Susan Fletcher – I love her books.  She’s an author who literally makes you feel you’ve stepped into the book and Witch Light was such an unusual story.  I don’t deny it took me a few chapters to get into but once it had my attention.  Wow.
  5. The Sandman Graphic Novels by Neil Gaiman – first graphic novels that I ever read.
  6. The Girl with all the Gifts by M R Carey – basically, a zombie story with a difference and told from a different perspective.  A ‘can’t put down’ book.
  7. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt – my first, and only ever, cowboy book.  I loved this.  Not what I expected. Full of wit.  If anybody has anymore cowboy stories like this one then count me in.
  8. Gail Carriger – her steampunk novels (The Parasol Protectorate).  I haven’t read the whole series but I really enjoyed this and it was my first foray into steampunk.  Steam?  Punk??  Steampunk????? (why did nobody tell me about steampunk years ago??) *wags finger*
  9. I am Legend by Richard Matheson – got to be one of the most unique and unexpected endings.  Ever!
  10. The Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence – very original.  Definitely the first time I’ve read about such a young anti hero.  Split into two time frames.  Grimdark in the extreme.

Now, I’m sure you’re going to remind me of loads of other great, unique books – but, you know this list is 10 only!!!

Beauty by Robin McKinley

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time.  A retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley  Firstly, I think this is one of my favourite fairy tales.  It’s also probably my favourite Disney Film.  So I went in with fairly high expectations.

I actually know what it is about this tale that appeals to me. It’s the fact that somebody can see beneath the exterior to what lies within and love a person whether or not they’re attractive.  Plus, and I know this probably sounds unreasonable, but it always kind of reminds me of Jane Eyre.  Now, I know that’s probably a long stretch but I can’t help making the leap.

I’m fairly certain that everyone will know the story of Beauty and the Beast but for the avoidance of doubt it’s a fairy tale told at bedtime of a family whose fortunes take a downward turn.  The father and his three daughters (the mother having, I think, died in childbirth) have been brought up in comfort and style.  The father is a merchant with ships that he owns to trade his goods.  He becomes a victim of rough tides and loses his wealth.  The family then move to the country and live a much simpler life.  The father, on returning from a trip to the city, becomes lost and comes upon a dark and foreboding castle and yet he is looked after and fed (although he sees no sight of any person).  In the morning, upon leaving he takes a rose from the garden to give to his daughter (nicknamed Beauty – for obvious reasons).  Upon taking the rose there is an almighty roar and a huge beast appears and threatens to kill the man for abusing his trust and stealing the rose.  The beast demands that the man return in 30 days time – to die – or one of his daughters to take his place (not to die of course but to become a prisoner within the castle)!

That’s basically the gist of the story. In the retelling imagined by Robin McKinley there are a few differences.  Beauty has earned the nickname in spite of her looks as she is rather plain and unlike in the traditional tale her sisters are both pretty and fair tempered.  The family love each other dearly.  In accordance with the original tale their fortunes are lost but they actually then move to the country with a suitor of one of the sisters where they seem to live in relative happiness despite all their extra chores (which they are very unfamiliar with).  There is, of course, a foreboding forest – believed to be enchanted – to the rear of their cottage which nobody ever enters.  That is until the father does return to the City following the return of one of his ships.  On his return journey he does become lost and encounters the enchanted castle belonging to the beast.  From there onwards the story is fairly much as above with a few differences like a rather fascinating and enchanted library!

I really enjoyed this story.  McKinley has a quite enchanting voice.  I liked the fact that Beauty wasn’t actually as her name described.  She was actually much plainer than both her sisters although lets be clear here – she’s not ugly, hideous or a beast).  I liked this about the story – both of them had inhibitions to overcome.  I also liked the enchanted castle and the magical breezes that kept Beauty company.

Reading this again made me realise that in fact both Beauty and the Beast were lonely and in need of each other.  I’d never really picked that fact up before. Beauty, even in the more traditional stories, and certainly in this – was always different than the rest of her family.  Certainly not an outcast but definitely not the same.  The two characters seemed almost compelled to like each other just because of their differences.  When you consider the Disney film of the story – Beauty is lovely – and yet the entire village think she is ‘odd’ – simply because she reads!  They don’t truly accept her although they want to because she is so pretty (in fact in that tale her prettiness is almost a curse because it draws the wrong attention).  The beast on the other hand will never be accepted.  He’s far too scary and hideous.  It’s the two extremes and although one may seem more desirable than the other in actual fact neither of them truly fit.

I’ve rambled on a bit there and been led off course.  This is a lovely retelling of one of my favourite stories from a very good author.  If I had any criticism at all it would simply be for a little more of a dark gothicy feel.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this and would have no hesitation in recommending.

I’m submitting this for my Once Upon a Time reading event being hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings under the category of fairy tale.

The Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

Just finished reading the Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle.  I read this as my folklore entry for Stainless Steel Droppings Once Upon a Time event.

I don’t imagine Robin Hood needs much introduction.  Most people will be familiar with him through film.  Living in Sherwood Forest and robbing from the rich to give to the poor.  A much loved folklore figure with his band of merry men.  Apparently Robin Hood became a popular folk figure during mediaeval times and may have actually sprung up from ballads and tales of real outlaws.

Anyway I went into this with much nostalgia as my gran used to tell us stories of Robin Hood when we were children.  She never used a book she just told us the stories from memory and she was an excellent story teller so I had fairly high expectations! I also visited Nottingham Forest as a child with my family and we have a picture of us all with the Major Oak.

I don’t imagine I need to elaborate on the plot.  The story brings to us the usual characters that Robin encountered or recruited along the way.  Will Scarlet and Little John in particular – although if you’re expecting any of the Maid Marion love story you may be disappointed as she plays a very minor role (more a thought really)  I suppose this probably started out more as a tale for boys – although don’t take my word for that as it’s just pure supposition.  I did find it quite novel to read of how Robin Hood became an outlaw as I don’t think I’d understood that aspect before.  According to this particular story Robin killed a man during an argument and a wager gone wrong.  In fairness to Robin the other man shot an arrow at him first so you could argue this was self defence but after that (and also after having killed the King’s deer) he was an outlaw with a bounty upon his head.  According to the stories he deeply regretted killing that man and had no taste for bloodshed.  His death is also written about here and the legend of how he shot his bow and arrow one last time to mark his final resting place – a sad ending and betrayed by somebody who you would least expect.

I enjoyed reading this, it brought back childhood memories and also I confess that throughout I was thinking of the Disney film and the songs in particular!  I wouldn’t say I loved it, although it’s an entertaining read without doubt, but I thought that the writing style, particularly the dialogue in places, is a little difficult to unpick.  For example:

‘This same Robin Hood, of whom, I wot, I never heard before, is a right merry blade, but gin he be strong, am not I stronger?  And gin he be sly, am not I slyer?  Now by the bright eyes of Nan ‘o the Mill, and by mine own name and that’s Wat ‘o the Crabstaff, meet this same sturdy rogue, and gin he mind not the seal of our glorious Sovereign, King Harry, and the warrant of the good Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, I will so bruise, beat and bamaul his pate that he shall never move finger or toe again!  Hear ye that, bully boys?”

I certainly didn’t dislike it however and it’s made me think about trying to find a more modern retelling of the stories.  If anyone has any suggestions then let me know.

On the whole this was a lovely reading experience although I recognise this particular classical version may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

 

 

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