The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales

Rating: 4 of 5

From the Introduction: “From the woods to the stars, join us on eighteen extraordinary journeys into unexpected territories, uncharted lands, and unforeseen experiences. Welcome to an adventure that’s strangely familiar and startlingly different at the same time. You’re likely to emerge changed, but isn’t that the way it is with all the best stories?”

My thoughts: An excellent anthology with lovely, intricate illustrations. (Take a peek at a few on the illustrator’s website.) Most times with collections I’m prepared to trudge through at least a handful of the stories that don’t quite WOW me. Not the case with The Starlit Wood; only one failed to hold my attention, and I’m sure that’s more to do with my personal tastes than its quality or mass appeal. I also loved reading the Author’s Note that followed each story.

There are stories that read like a traditional fairy tale and stories that lean more heavily toward fantasy/ sci-fi / western inspired by fairy tales. Having that blend of cross-genre tales really gives this anthology the extra oomph often overlooked in collections.

There was a tie for my favorite: Kat Howard‘s “Reflected” and Stephen Graham Jones‘ “Some Wait.” Naomi Novik‘s “Spinning Silver” was a close runner-up.

Highly recommend to fairy-tale enthusiasts on the hunt for original retellings.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Table of Contents (with original tale, hidden in case you want to be surprised):

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating: 4 of 5

Synopsis: “A spellbinding and darkly humorous coming-of-age story about an unusual boy, whose family lives on the fringe of society and struggles to survive in a hostile world that shuns and fears them.” (source)

My thoughts: I was compelled to read this book thanks to an article/ interview posted on Cemetery Dance Online. During the interview, Jones mentioned WHEN ANIMALS DREAM; I thought, hey, this dude may be alright, so I picked up Mongrels.

A coming-of-age tale with werewolves seemed like a perfect idea to me, and Jones delivers. Seriously, I was hooked from sentence one: “My grandfather used to tell me he was a werewolf.”

I adored the unnamed narrator’s Grandpa from the get-go. And it wasn’t until I finished the story and started thinking about my “review” that I realized the narrator was never named; I felt like I knew him so completely. Crafty, sneaky author. While I did not enjoy the grisly details involving owls and bunnies and dogs, those added another layer of realism to the werewolves’ behavior. I simply looked away from those poor animals’ death scenes and read on.

I couldn’t stop reading either. Their dysfunctional little family was messed up, sure, but man there was a lot of heart there. Loyal and protective, accepting of one another. Hell, if one were to overlook their criminal tendencies and, you know, the occasional murdering, it’d be hard not to want family members like them to have your back.

There was also an interesting mix of new and old folklore surrounding the werewolves in Mongrels. I won’t go into specifics, because it’s more fun to let them unfold as you read, but I will say the whole story had a freshness that I’ve missed in horror recently. Plus, like I already mentioned, it had heart and, ultimately, I think that depth was what allowed me to overlook its minor imperfections.

Highly recommended especially if you devour everything werewolf.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)