The Rose and the Beast

Bite-sized fairytales make for an enjoyable read.

My favorite genre for the past year or two has been the distorted, demented, or simply re-imagined fairytale. This extends to myths and folklore too, of course, and I have devoured everything from Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series to the sometimes playful, sometimes frightfully dark adaptations in the various collections edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, such as Troll’s Eye View and The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest. It was through my voracious reading of the collections from these two editors—dozens of books you absolutely must check out!—that I discovered Francesca Lia Black’s The Rose and the Beast.

This little book is not like the others in terms of its style or movement, but it remains a well-loved collection nonetheless. It does not contain saucy dialogue, building plots with twists and turns, or lengthy descriptive passages that might make you swoon. Instead, it consists of tiny, bite-sized fairytales—a collection of nine in just under 230 pages in a book that is also almost pocket-sized—that turn traditional tales around, often in a feminist perspective, with poetic, lyrical crafting.

I use feminist here to simply mean that the heroines often make better decisions than their traditional counterparts; do not pick up this book expecting it to be full of castrating princesses—or abandon it because you think that is what it will hold! No, instead, think of a gorgeous Snow White who, rather than abandon her seven foster fathers for a lover, chooses to stay, or a muse-like Thumbelina whose magic transforms a human boy rather than who is impacted by a fairy prince. In some ways, these tales are much richer, even more layered despite their brevity than their original inspirations.

Of course, the stories we are familiar with are not originals, either, but hand-me-down tales that were suddenly recorded when the opportunity presented itself—so who knows? These telling of braver, stronger heroines may be closer to the originals that were once uttered than we think. We will, of course, never know—which makes it fun to continue experimenting with these old tales.

This is a perfect romantic book to curl up with during a winter’s idyll in the coming season, as well as something to gift your favorite teen with for the holidays. Check it out and read each tiny story in between moments of waiting, or cozy up with the full book in your favorite chair for a deliciously romantic, fantasy-rich afternoon.

Give Me Your Heart by Joyce Carol Oates

The authoress does it again.

Some people are addicted to caramel macchiato with whipped cream. Some are addicted to reality television. One of my favorite addictions is authoress Joyce Carol Oates. The woman is as prolific as you can get, producing fiction at a faster rate than any other (good) author that I can think of, and it pretty much never disappoints. Some of it is horrific; some of it is hilarious. Much of it is in between, and I suppose that’s why I love her so much. The woman can tell a story.

In the latest collection of works by Oates that I have read, Give Me Your Heart, the reader is treated to a wide variety of heart-stopping and heart-giving tales. The titular short story is a letter from a woman to an old lover who could have ruined her life, and she feels that it’s time he pay up and give her his ticker. A common theme of the author’s, that of a young girl in trouble (often at the hands of men), is prevalent in several of the stories, including an impressive one about a teen surrounded by lustful men in their twenties who must devise a way out by her wits. A real sense of place can be found in a couple of these tales, particularly one about a very dangerous river area and a young woman desperate to find safety in her life.

Perhaps the most moving story for me was the final one in the collection, which was about a soldier returned home from the war in the Middle East badly damaged both physically and mentally. It’s a story we’ve all heard and we can all envision, yet it never fails to make us weep and wonder what we are doing to our men and women. Dubbing them heroes really just isn’t enough, and in some cases, it’s like a slap in the face to them after they suffer the worst punishment a person ever could.

My only complaint with this collection is that some of the stories did seem a little verbose, as if Oates needed to fulfill more details than the reader perhaps needed to know. She lost me in a couple and I had to return later to finish them. They were still quite enjoyable, but with so many of these seemingly unnecessary details I do wonder if there is a personal application to any of these stories in her life. I think most authors have at least tiny bit of themselves in their work, after all.

I would heartily recommend Give Me Your Heart at the top of anyone’s summer reading list. It’s fast to read through for the most part, with perhaps the most payoff you’ll get out of fiction. Satisfaction is definitely what keeps me coming back to Oates every single time.

Bread Bread Bread

If you are seeking an enlightening book about food and culture, Ann Morris’s book Bread Bread Bread just might be it. With photographs taken by Ken Heyman, the book features a friendly yet telling look at bread from all around the world. It’s such an incredible book because it’s about diversity and the plethora of people here without waving a big flag that screams “Diversity here! Learn about people different from you!” It’s a gentle, easy to read book that children will enjoy.

The various photos of bread, as well as the people making, enjoying, or selling it, are simply beautiful and provocative in a subtle way, if that makes sense; kids can tell immediately that there is something different—and perhaps, sometimes something poor—about each different type of bread without being told. Photos of fat and skinny bread, bread with holes or flat shapes, and breads that are both soft and crunchy are all depicted. Families who eat nothing but bread with something small alongside it—along with families who have much more—are also shown without a piteous statement or judgmental observation. On the contrary, each family and each bread is simply in existence for children to see and make their own observations about. Kids will be exposed to things they might not ever expect, like older people selling bread, or perhaps children like them cooking bread on a hot open fire.

The importance of bread as a nutritional staple is also conveyed, as is the warmth and love of making and eating it with family. They are written so simply, however, that the message is not force fed, but sweet instead.

One of my favorite parts about the book is at the end, where each part of the world displayed in the book is further broken down, and we get to learn more about where each type of bread came from as well as some of the traditions from that area. For example, in Guatemala the mother makes the bread while the whole family gets it ready for sale, while in Portugal people often eat bread in outdoor cafes. Again, these descriptions are not presented in a judgmental or harsh format, but simple wording that children can understand easily. Both similarities and differences from around the world can be pointed out quickly just by viewing these photos and reading the short statements, allowing children to draw their own conclusions.