I caught an older episode of Law & Order: SVU on TV in which the villain is a man who kidnaps, tortures, and kills women for fame because he can’t get his true crime writing published and one rejection letter in particular says that they’re only accepting books about recent crimes and he’s writing about a serial killer in the 1970s. I’m just. Dude.
First: This is why you DON’T USE YOUR REJECTION LETTERS AS WALLPAPER so that you have to look at them 24/7. (Also: bitch, please. I’ve gotten more rejection letters than that and I’ve only been submitting my writing for about five years.)
Second: Self-publishing. IT’S A VALID OPTION.
I don’t come across many picture books related to The Arabian Nights, so when I saw this one I grabbed it off the shelf and began reading right away. The book features eight stories, the first of which tells how the shah Shahriyar came to marry a new bride every night and execute her in the morning, and how the clever Shahrazade enacted her plan to stop the shah’s madness. The book even includes Duniazad, Shahrazade’s younger sister who is a partner in the plan.
Shahrazade begins with the story from The Arabian Nights that most Western audiences are probably familiar with: Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. The rest of the stories are ones that readers raised mainly on European fairy tales might not recognize, which makes me extra happy that this book does such a good job of retelling them. Each story features many color illustrations by Carole Hénaff, which are bright and full of personality.
One of the things I like so much about this book is that Tarnowska doesn’t briefly sum up the stories but writes lengthy retellings, allowing the plot of each story to completely unfold and giving the characters room enough to become lifelike. The only disadvantage is that this book wouldn’t necessarily be a good choice for a story time when you have to keep the attention of multiple young children, but it would be excellent for an older child who is into fairy tales. And, of course, any adults who are looking for a good story.
This edition of The Arabian Nights includes a Glossary of things and places that appear in the stories, and a brief list of resources for anybody who wants more Arabian Nights goodness after reaching the end. Tarnowska, who was born in Lebanon, also writes a wonderful Introduction that provides some history about The Arabian Nights and her own history of hearing her grandmother tell the stories as a child.
I'm usually not a person to do impulse spending. I keep lists of things I want or need to buy and generally do a good job of sticking to those lists, including books. But not long ago I had almost an hour to kill in a bookstore, which is always a dangerous situation when it comes to restraint.
I already own three copies of "The Snow Queen," two of which are illustrated. Then I saw it: a hardcover volume of the fairy tale with thick, crisp paper and full of color illustraions by printmaker and textile designer Sanna Annukka. The pictures are gorgeous, with bold colors and full of personality, different from most other fairy tale picture books you'll see. Some of my favorites are the illustrations of the hobgoblin, the Robber Girl, and the Snow Queen herself. The text of the story is translated by Jean Hersholt and is very enjoyable.
If you've been looking to treat yourself to an illustrated edition of a fairy tale, get your hands on this one.
Now that we've made it past the shortest day of the year (and I’ve already driven through my first snowstorm), I’m in the mood for some winter fairy tales. I only know of three, though:
The Snow Queen (Hans Christian Andersen)
The Little Match Girl (Andersen)
The Twelve Months (Eastern Europe, though I’ve also seen a mention of a variation from Greece)
Can anybody recommend some more?
You have recently accepted a post as a governess to two children in Norfolk, England. Upon arriving (and getting an odd reaction from a husband and wife at the train station when they learn your destination), you learn that you are to be the only adult living in the house and that the last governess posted the position herself before running off literally the moment you turned up. That same night, a pair of invisible hands grabs you in bed and drags you down before you get free.
A) Leave immediately and return to London.
B) Post an advertisement for a new governess, then leave.
C) Find the nearest adult and demand to know what is going on, then leave.
D) Decide to stay and make the best of it, because why not.
If you answered “D,” congratulations! You have made the same choice as Eliza Caine, a young schoolteacher living in Victorian London whose father recently died, has no living family or close friends, and chose to answer an advertisement for somebody wanting a governess who can start work immediately.
“This House is Haunted” is exactly as titled, which makes me laugh, but at the same time it’s certainly the clearest advertisement of a ghost story I’ve ever encountered. I recommend this book for people who like haunted house novels featuring odd children, or isolated governesses, or creepy mansions in the countryside, or isolated governesses who end up taking care of odd children while living in a creepy mansion.
To give Eliza credit, she does make attempts to find out more about the children’s current situation, the family in general, and the fact that she’s the sixth governess in one year, but is frequently stalled by everyone’s unwillingness to talk about these things at all. In one scene she threatens to camp out in the office of the family’s lawyer all day until she gets some answers, which I find delightful.
Without giving too much away, the plot features some elements that make me think of “Jane Eyre” and “Rebecca.” The ending is also very good, which can be hard to find in horror fiction.
This book has been on my To Read list for a long time and was part of this year’s goal to get through as many books on the list as possible, starting with the ones that I couldn’t remember what they were about. When I borrowed this book from the library, I thought it would be ghost stories written by Dahl. Instead, the Introduction reveals that in the 1950s Dahl pitched the idea for a television series of ghost stories to be shown in the U.S. and read hundreds of stories in order to choose ones suitable for adapting to film. The series fell through, sadly, but fortunately he decided to put together this anthology of fourteen ghost stories he liked the most. The book as a whole is enjoyable but I particularly recommend the following stories:
Harry by Rosemary Timperley: A couple’s adopted daughter gains an imaginary friend. I love the slowly growing feeling of dread throughout this tale.
Elias and the Draug by Jonas Lie: The only story is this book not written by a non-English language author, Lie is an author from Norway who spins a tale of what happens to a fisherman and his family after he throws his harpoon at the wrong seal.
Ringing the Changes by Robert Aickman: Creepy, creepy, creepy. Recommended for anybody who wants a story of people visiting a town they’ve never been to before and encountering a horrifying local tradition.
The Telephone by Mary Treadgold: Sad as much as it is scary, this story looks at the dead and the living being unwilling to let go of each other.
The Ghost of a Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu: You would think that there’s no way a story simply about a hand being the only part of a ghost anybody sees could be disturbing. You would be wrong.
Afterward by Edith Wharton: Given how much I hated reading “Ethan Frome” in high school (You guys, I hated it so much. I will never get over how much I wanted to throw this book against a wall), the fact that I enjoyed this story about a woman whose husband mysteriously disappears came as a complete shock.
On the Brighton Road by Richard Middleton: Short and atmospheric. How do you know if you area dead or alive?