I spent 8 hours in the car today to pick up my new cats. Jasper & Jaimie belonged to my friend Abby. After she died last month her cats had to be adopted out. My friend Jenna took the two shyest. The youngest went to a friend of the family, which left Jasper & Jaimie. They’ve been staying in Kentucky since Thanksgiving and today they came home with me!
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.”
That’s a pretty awesome way to start a book. I’ve already talked about how much I love Uprooted, but it is still standing firm as one of my absolute favorite books and so I wanted to have it on the Advent Calendar this year.
What starts as a well written, but unsurprising Beauty and the Beast story grows into something altogether magical as Novik weaves elements of Polish folktales into the base story she has given herself.
There are more beautiful moments in this book than there are leaves on a tree and each one is just as full of life. If you have any fondness for fairytales, please, do yourself the service of picking this book up.
This graphic novel is utterly charming. It is about a little girl who likes to fix things and a small lost robot.
There is adventure and danger and learning to compromise. There are good cats and bad robots. There is friendship and sacrifice. It’s just generally amazing.
Interestingly, it’s also much closer to a wordless book than many of his others. There are entire double page spreads that tell the story only with pictures. And, of course, the art it adorable.
Vess is perhaps most well known, at least in my circles, as the illustrator of Stardust, Neil Gaiman’s beautiful fairytale. (There is an illustrated version, but I don’t really understand why.) But he has done so, so many projects and The Book of Ballads is one of my favorites.
I love ballads. Much of that love comes from the folk music of the early ’70’s. Bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention sang the old ballads and introduced me to so many stories.
I have all of their albums now along with many, many more from less famous folk musicians. Renn Fairs, by the way, are fantastic places to find people who play those songs. Eventually, I even got myself a set of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads collected by Francis James Child. Most of my favorites, including Tam Lin, are collected there.
The Book of Ballads takes thirteen well known ballads and retells them as comics written by some of the most well known names in fantasy literature and illustrated by Charles Vess. Sadly, the book is out of print currently, but used copies are available. If you are at all interested in the old stories, this is a wonderful thing to pick up.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Terri Windling
The False Knight on the Road: Neil Gaiman
King Henry: Jane Yolen
Thomas the Rhymer: Sharyn McCrumb
Barbara Allen: Midori Snyder
The Three Lovers: Lee Smith
Tam-Lin: Elaine Lee
The Daemon Lover: Delia Sherman
Twa Corbies: Charles de Lint
The Galtee Farmer: Jeff Smith
Alison Gross: Charles Vess
The Black Bull: Emma Bull
The Great Selchie of Sule Skerry: Jane Yolen
Discography Notes: Ken Roseman (This is a wonderful resource as it tells you places to find different versions of the ballads as recorded by various artists.)
For our second day of Advent, I thought I would stick with a historical fantasy novel. Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis.
Masks and Shadows is set in the court of Eszterháza Palace at the height of its decadance, 1779. While war rages in the American colonies over taxes and tea, Prince Nikolas is driving the peasants into the ground to maintain his lifestyle and expand his palace. He keeps a private opera company and one of the best composers of the age, Joseph Haydn, for the amusement of himself and his guests. Further, he has his mistress acting as his hostess while his wife, Princess Marie Elizabeth, remains cloistered in her rooms.
Into this decadence comes Countess Charlotte von Steinbeck, the widowed sister of that very mistress. Charlotte is hoping for some peace and quiet with her sister in order to recover from the death of her husband and to dodge the matrimonial schemes of her mother. Instead, she finds a palace teeming with intrigue, vice, and music.
Kapellmeister Haydn is composing a new opera for the Prince. One of the foremost castrati in Europe, Carlo Morelli has come to sing, and Charlotte’s own maid has demonstrated an unexpectedly pure and beautiful voice.
Ranked against the sublime music, there is treason, espionage, and dark magics. And it comes down to Charlotte and Carlo to penetrate the masks of civility that everyone is wearing and stop the plot before it can overthrow an empire.
It’s Advent season again. I don’t happen to be religious, but I do enjoy organized lists, so I thought I would do a literary Advent Calendar this year.
If you like that idea, Book Riot has a fantastic one! Every day they are posting a poem, essay, or a story. I’ll be focusing more on books than smaller works.
At its heart, Ghost Talkers is a spy story set during World War I that has a very small twist on history. What if the Spiritualist movement had been right? Ghosts exist and mediums can, in fact, communicate with them.
That opens up an unprecedented pipeline of intelligence data from the front. The ghosts of dead Allied soldiers report to the Spirit Corps headquarters to give their reports.
Ginger Stuyvesant is one of the driving forces behind the Spirit Corps. She is a powerful medium, with a profound sense of duty and a keen intelligence. It is, therefore, not a surprise that she is the first to discover that there is a traitor working among the Spirit Corps. Unfortunately, a female American in the 1910’s is not considered the most reliable witness. So, Ginger has to rely on her own abilities, both mental and metaphysical, to unmask the traitor and block their plans to destroy first the Spirit Corps and then the Allied army itself.
Ghost Talkers is one of my favorite books this year. It hits so many of my personal buttons. I’ve been reading loads of circa-WWI murder mysteries in the last several years and I was beside myself when Mary said she was working on a story set in the period. This book has the attention to historical detail that I expect from one of Mary’s books. She doesn’t bash you over the head with how much she knows. Instead there are tiny details perfectly worked into the narrative so that you truly feel that you are there with Ginger, on the trains with the boys going off to war, in the trenches moments after disaster, and in the quiet dark moments snatched between barrages.
Mary’s characters become friends. You celebrate their triumphs and mourn their tragedies.
So, during this holiday season, may I introduce you to my friend, Miss Ginger Stuyvesant? I think you will be great friends.
My friend Clair posted this today and it seems to be consistent with some feelings I’ve also seen on Twitter. And I can’t argue with any of it. But…
And that’s the thing. I always have a “but.”
Here is the comment I left on Clair’s post:
I understand the frustration people have with the safety pin activism, but at the same time, I will continue to wear mine. It’s something small. It’s something I have to think about every day. When I take it off today’s shirt and put it on tomorrow’s it’s a promise to myself.
It makes me visible. Maybe people will roll their eyes, but maybe someone who need it will see it.
And if I do see a situation where I should step up to be a better ally, the pin is there to remind me that I’ve promised not to stay silent, to let it slide this one time.
I’m very privileged. The things that would make me a target (outside of being a woman) are generally invisible. No one can tell my sexual preference or religion just by looking. So this is a reminder to myself maybe more than a signal to someone else.
So, I guess that’s where I stand. I’ll keep wearing my pin. And I absolutely LOVE the images that children’s book authors & illustrators have been doing. Because, yeah, kids need to know that the characters they love are there for them. So, I think that’s amazing too.
Author Anne Leonard commented on a thread where I was discussing this issue over on Twitter.
She said, “Any sort of organized resistance is going to have infiltrators. They’ll wear safety pins.” And that’s totally true.
But, that doesn’t mean we don’t organize. And I know that there are better ways to do it than to wear safety pins. And I’m positive people who are much more competent than I am are working on it (which doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it too.) But for now, a safety pin is what I’ve got to make my promise. So, I’ll be wearing it.
Since the election, a lot of people have been posting about wearing safety pins as an outward indication that you’re an ally. Unless you’re backing that up with your dollars, time, and actions, it’s not enough. In fact, a Facebook post indicates that white nationalist groups have already co-opted the problematic symbol.
If you want to be an ally, please don’t ask your People of Color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, people of faith, people of no faith, and Othered communities. And for the love of everything holy, don’t tone police them, especially not in this time of grief.
One tough thing to keep in mind: Being an ally isn’t about you. It’s not about shouting your views from the rooftops, it’s about your actions. And yes, I recognize my privilege and the irony in posting on my personal blog about how to be an ally. There’s not much more I can say on that end…
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