Archive for the ‘Magical’ Category

Everything was more sacred than yourself, and your own longings were the least sacred thing of all.

IMG_0100This single sentence beautifully conveys the spirit of this gem of a story about a 60 year old woman who suddenly finds her life unbearable. When we first meet Marianne, she is readying herself to take a final plunge into the Seine in a desperate attempt to end her boring, insignificant life. Then we witness the first of many times Marianne’s life is saved, literally and figuratively, throughout the story.

That first “save” launches Marianne on a journey across France which begins as a quest to drown herself in the sea and ends with her figurative rebirth as a woman. Along the way, an incredible sequence of events, initiated by a painted tile of a seaside village, draws her closer and closer to Kerdruc, the lush and magical Breton village depicted on the tile. As Marianne journeys across France with nothing but a bit of cash and the clothes on her back, she reflects on the loveless marriage and cold-hearted, indifferent husband she’s running from, and begins to remember the girl she was before she was a wife.

When she reaches Kerdruc and finds the sea, she lands in the middle of a quaint village full of colorful, kind-hearted people who accept her at face-value. Their kindness and friendship begin to change her and reverse her wish to die. It is the sea, however, that gives her the strength to reject the old Marianne and let the real Marianne come forth and embrace her own magic and, ultimately, find love.

Nina George has once again created a world full of magical, quirky, witty, and human characters who live and love enthusiastically. There’s all sorts of love here – unrequited, rejected, deep and old, hidden, and raw. George’s Marianne is the catalyst that brings multiple love stories to their apex, while at the same time, creating a new story all her own. Marianne’s story is all too familiar – the middle-aged woman who suddenly realizes most of her life is gone and she has nothing to show for it. She has become a maid for her husband, invisible except when he wants something, unable to assert herself and fulfill her own needs, essentially voiceless. Under George’s care, Marianne comes alive in the pages of this story, and ultimately sees herself as other see her, through an artist’s eyes. I was reminded a bit of a book I read years ago – Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall – as I accompanied Marianne on her journey. Like Avey, the protagonist of that book, Marianne connects with the land and people of Brittany, and especially with the sea, just as Avey connects with her African ancestors. Their journeys were similar and powerful, sending a message about how women sacrifice their lives for others, often living their lives through their families, and how there is always time to rediscover the young woman who once dreamed of a very different life.

Sometimes stories like this one leave me sad and unsatisfied. The Little French Bistro left me feeling joyful and hopeful, something we all need a bit more of these days. This would make an excellent book for a group discussion. Highly Recommended.

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gatherI have written before of my love for Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa books. I swear, I become more enamored with Cloud County and the Tufa with every entry in this series. Bledsoe’s latest, Gather Her Round, does not disappoint. My favorite characters are back – Bliss Overbay, Bronwyn Hyatt Chess, and Mandalay Harris – plus some new folks who show great promise. In this instance, Bledsoe begins with a horrific accident when Kera Rogers is attacked and killed by a wild pig. Kera’s death reveals a love triangle that becomes deadly when one boy who loved her finds out she was seeing his best friend. Soon after, the scorned lover becomes responsible for the death of his friend, also killed by a wild pig, which sets in motion a deadly hunt and plenty of human emotion.

Bledsoe has created a remarkable world within a world in Cloud County, and keeps adding fascinating characters. I am so intrigued by how Mandalay’s story is unfolding and am eagerly awaiting how Bledsoe will resolve the tension between her and Junior Damo. Two new characters who I hope to see in future stories are Janet, the musical prodigy, and Flick, Junior’s dangerous protector. If you haven’t read the Tufa stories, don’t start with this one. Go get The Hum and the Shiver and start from there. You’ll thank me!

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JackabyDiscovering Sherlock Holmes was a watershed moment in my reading life, and I have remained enamored of the great detective for years. Many authors have attempted to improve upon Sir Arthur’s stories, some with success, some without. I always find myself drawn to these treatments of Holmes and Watson, even when it’s not those specific characters in play, but characters drawn in the Holmesian style. So it was with relish that I cracked Jackaby by William Ritter, which features a detective-scientist in the manner of Holmes who operates in New Fiddleham, a growing town located somewhere on the east coast of the United States (could be a young Boston, or New York).

Two things interested me here: the replacement of the dour John Watson character with Miss Abigail Rook, dinosaur hunter, recently of England, and the inclusion of a supernatural element. We enter the story with Miss Rook’s arrival in New Fiddleham from a sea voyage that took her anywhere but home. We come to understand that Abigail, daughter of a famed archaeologist, had grown tired of always being left at home when her father went on digs and so took the money designated to pay her tuition at a young ladies school and scarpered off to dig for dinosaurs in Eastern Europe. When that adventure ended, she got on a boat and ended up in New Fiddleham, still looking for adventure and not a little afraid to go home. She encounters Jackaby in a tavern, where he does the typical Sherlockian assessment and recitation of where she has been, only in this version, he bases his assessment on the fairies and pixies hiding among Abigail clothes, clinging to her in passage to the new world.

Abigail encounters Jackaby again when she answers an advertisement for an assistant, and finds herself among the oddities in his home, including a frog that dispenses a noxious gas out of its eyes, a neat ghost, and a duck who turns out to be a former assistant to the detective. Abigail and Jackaby are immediately plunged into a grisly murder scene in an apartment house also inhabited by a banshee. There is the usual tension and disrespect between the “amateur” detective and the “real” detective who scoffs at Jackaby’s methods (he can “feel” supernatural auras and trails left in the air when these beings pass by). Jackaby immediately discerns that an ancient evil is at work, and predicts more deaths, which, naturally occur until the evil is finally defeated.

I quite liked the characters here. Abigail is a spunky, smart young woman who is not intimidated by the oftentimes overbearing Jackaby. The great man himself is somewhat endearing and very entertaining. The supporting characters, especially the young policeman Charlie Cain and Jackaby’s live-in ghost Jenny, are interesting and deserve more attention in any future entries in this series. The supernatural elements were not the usual withes, vampires, or werewolves, but unusual creatures drawn from British and world folklore. The identity and origin of the “ancient evil” is a clever and unusual bit of British/Scottish lore that I cannot recall being used anywhere else. The writing is crisp, and the plot moves along very nicely. I sincerely hope we will see more of Jackaby and Abigail Rook in the future. Highly recommended.

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Wisp of a Thing: A Novel of the TufaI have loved fairy tales since I was a young child devouring Grimm, Andersen, and Lang. Those tales led me to the work of Kevin Crossley-Holland, Joanna Cole, and Katharine Briggs, and fed a lifelong interest in Celtic folktales and mythology. Which is why I am in love with the Tufa.

The Tufa feature prominently in Alex Bledsoe’s books The Hum and the Shiver and in this newest offering, Wisp of a Thing. The Tufa are modern day faeries, part of a race of creatures who fled land to the east and settled in the mountains of East Tennessee. They have distinctive features that include straight, lustrous black hair, a dusky complexion, and perfect teeth. They use faerie glamour to appear as ordinary humans, but in reality are powerful creatures who use hidden wings to ride the night winds. The Tufa are split into two factions, the First Daughters led by Mandalay, an ancient soul reborn into a child’s body whose “regent” is Bliss Overbay who will protect her until she’s grown. These Tufa do no harm, and communicate love, grief, life, and death through haunting music. The second faction, led by the irascible and sneaky Rockhouse Hicks, are not as nice. These are the dark fae who resent humans and want to use their powers to dominate, control, and destroy.

Bledsoe began the story of the Tufa in The Hum and the Shiver, where he told the story of Bronwyn Hyatt, a First Daughter of the Tufa, who defied the restriction that the Tufa can never leave the hills in which they make their home. She enlisted in the Army and went to Iraq, where she was wounded, returning home a hero. He continues the Tufa’s tale in Wisp of a Thing that reveals the darker side of the Tufa through the story of Curnen, a young woman cursed to live her life out in the woods until she finally becomes a “wisp of a thing” and fades away completely. The night winds which guide the Tufa step in and orchestrate the arrival of a bereaved young man who looks like a Tufa but is not one of the “true.” His arrival in Cloud County stirs up all sorts of trouble that leads to a final showdown between the light and the dark Tufa.

Giving an adequate synopsis of Bledsoe’s work is very difficult because these books are like none I’ve read before. The writing is lovely, the stories full of mythology, legend, and fairy tale as well as plain old human emotion, all revolving around a people we all want to believe in. Recommended for lovers of fairy tales and fantasy.

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