Bluebeard

Fableulous Retellings Podcast

Fableulous Retellings is back for season 5! We read and discuss “Bluebeard,” specifically focusing on what the heck the moral is supposed to be. Is this a feminist story? Is this everything that Mari’s sister thinks it is?

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Snow White Has Six Guns || Review

Initial Thoughts:

The story of Snow White is probably one of my least favorite fairy tales (and that’s not saying much, considering I love fairy tales in general), but I can definitely appreciate a retelling when it’s well done. And this novella was very well done. Valente is a new author for me this year, but gawds, do I want to read more of her stuff? YES PLEASE.


SIX-GUN SNOW WHITE

by Catherynne M. Valente
Saga Press, November 2015
Western, fairy tale retelling, novella
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies

Forget the dark, enchanted forest. Picture instead a masterfully evoked Old West where you are more likely to find coyotes as the seven dwarves. Insert into this scene a plain-spoken, appealing narrator who relates the history of our heroine’s parents—a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. Although her mother’s life ended as hers began, so begins a remarkable tale: equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, this is an utterly enchanting story…at once familiar and entirely new.

Skin as white as snow

This story was actually my second of Valente’s novellas, the first being Speak Easy, which was also a fairy tale retelling. In the case of Speak Easy, the scene was the Roaring Twenties and the subject was a bit more familiar to me because I do love me some Jazz Age stories from time to time. I enjoyed that book, but for some reason, Six-Gun Snow White was my personal favorite of the two.

But let me start by prefacing this review with the fact that of the many fairy tales out there in the world, and the many times I gush about fairy tales and their respective retellings, the story of Snow White is definitely one of my least favorites. I couldn’t really explain to you why, but it probably stems from the fact that I still resent the progression of the tale itself. I mean, honestly, how much better was Snow’s situation after escaping from her super-vain stepmother? Not much unless your dream job is to be the housekeeper for seven grown-ass men. Come on, Snow, let’s not settle there.

Also, the whole perspective on beauty is just…meh. Most fairy tales tend to put a blanket “beautiful” statement about their heroines/damsels, so it’s not hard to imagine many of them being of different color. Snow White, on the other hand, breaks that norm by stating EXACTLY what makes Snow White the most beautiful woman of all. Sigh.

Hem. I mean…there are definitely many flaws, plot holes, and anti-feminist subtexts in a number of fairy tales, so Snow White is definitely not the worst (and most certainly not the most disturbing…though I suppose the queen practically asking the hunter to carve Snow White’s heart out is pretty macabre), it’s not a tale I care for.

Which is why I absolutely adored Valente’s retelling.

Snow White has a gun and she knows how to use it.

Valente pretty much took the tale of Snow White and ran with it. She put the setting in the mid-west. Snow White’s name wasn’t actually Snow White; she was named this way as a mockery, for the skin color that she would never have. She was the child of what is essentially a rape (yeah, this book is for adults, if you don’t already know), where her white father took possession of Gun That Sings, a Crow-woman he has lusted after since the moment he’d set eyes on her. In the end, things don’t end well for Gun That Sings, and Snow is left as a child of two cultures, unwelcome in both.

The beginning of the story kind of reminded me of the tale of “Donkeyskin,” which is one of my favorite tales (yeah, my head is weird). There were a lot of elements Valente used from “Donkeyskin,” including the three dresses and the fact that at some point even the father looked at Snow White and was reminded of the woman he’d tried to woo.

For the most part, the novella was definitely more “Snow White” than “Donkeyskin,” and elements of the original fairy tale pop up every so often. There’s a disturbingly magical mirror, there’s a stepmother whose goal is mostly ambiguous, there’s a hunter that was paid to go after Snow, and there’s the “dwarves” (who I’ll get to in a bit).

That said, this is a Western, and Snow White is pretty much a half-Crow, half-white girl who learned how to shoot a gun by the time she was six. She lived in a mansion, tucked away in her own little saloon, with arcade games and precious stones delivered straight from her surprisingly doting father. Eventually Snow White runs away (similar to the original), and she wanders for a while until she runs into a town that houses seven oddball characters.

And this is where Valente definitely twisted the elements around. Snow White doesn’t find men or miners. Snow White doesn’t become some housekeeper to a bevy of unwashed dudes. Snow White actually finds herself in a town filled with outcast women who kick ass. These are the women of the Wild West, women who had to survive out there without the boys in tow. Valente gave each woman a voice and a backstory, and that made it even more awesome.

Also, can I just say how much I love the illustrations that accompany this book?

Again, this is my second Valente, and I don’t know how her writing style is for her children’s books (I have The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…), but what I read in Speak Easy and Six-Gun Show White was that she really emulated the style and dialogue of the time period. The 1920s came alive for me in Speak Easy, and I can practically visualize the nitty gritty Wild West in Six-Gun Snow White. I loved how she incorporated many elements that made the West what it was during the Gold Rush and mining eras, and to me, it made absolute sense that Snow White’s story would be retold at this particular time and place.

So all in all, I enjoyed the novella. It was a fun, fast-paced read. It had characters that were super-interesting. It had a pleasantly candid perspective, and its heroine’s major character trait is not her outward beauty, but her spunky, independent attitude towards the life she’d been given.

Also, that twist in the end was something I never saw coming.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! I cannot wait to actually read more of Valente’s stuff.


Have you read this book or anything by the author? What did you think?

Food and Fandom: Medovik and Maslenitsa

I needed to get back into gear with the blogging, and what better time to do so especially when all I want to do is talk about food? I think it’s totally the right time, mostly because for me, Lent just began and it’s practically a countdown for me until Easter.

Why is this important to mention? Because of Maslenitsa!

“Maslenitsa was the three-day sun-feast, one of the oldest holidays in Muscovy. Older by far than the bells and crosses that marked its passing, though it had been given the trappings of religion to mask its pagan soul. This–the last day before the festival began–was the last day they could eat meat until Easter. Vladimir, Olga’s husband, was still in Serpukhov, but Olga had arranged a feast for his household–wild boar and stewed rabbit and cock-pheasants, and fish.” – The Girl in the Tower

I had honestly been waiting to get back into the swing of Food and Fandom-ness, especially when it comes to the fictional department, but I’d been so blah lately with books for the past two months that I couldn’t bring myself to be inspired. When I finally read my advanced copy of The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, though, I started getting really enthusiastic about the story to warrant another visit to Russia for some delectable treats.

Also, I’d gone to visit The Russian Tea Room in New York City and was absolutely inspired.

Seriously, how lovely is this place?!

Suffice to say that when February came rolling along, and the fact that my mother’s birthday almost coincided with the beginnings of Lent, I had every opportunity to find something to make that was based off of what I’d read from The Girl in the Tower.

Medovik

“For a few more days, the people could still eat butter and lard and cheese and other rich things, and so in the kitchen they were making butter-cakes by the score, by the hundred, cakes enough for days of gluttony.” – The Girl in the Tower

I’m outright refusing to get into the word origin of this cake, because for the most part, I was finding the word “medovik” when it came to looking up Russian honey cakes. Even though at some point it might also be called a smetannik…but ANYWAY. Natasha’s Kitchen (where I got the recipe from) calls it a medovik, so I’m going to call it that.

I chose to do a Russian honey cake because it was the closest iteration I could find that would best fit Arden’s world. A lot of the ingredients sound like they’d be used commonly, especially when it comes to making cakes. I barely used butter, but sour cream came into play, as did flour, eggs, and honey.

And because I was kind of in an experimenting mood, I wound up using the strong wild flower honey that I got from England almost a year ago. You could definitely taste the flavor in the cake afterwards, which is GREAT, because I adore honey.

Anyway, I didn’t change much in the recipe, so I suggest heading over to Natasha’s Kitchen to get the ingredients and cooking method.

What I should have changed was the way I rolled out these effing layers. WHY DIDN’T I JUST FLOUR THE SURFACE? WHY DID I HAVE TO USE PARCHMENT PAPER?

My arms were sore by the end of it, and I couldn’t even roll it all the way to 9 inches.

So…8-inch diameter cake it is!

From there it was pretty much easy peasy lemon squeezy. I was half-expecting my frosting to collapse on me, but I think it actually held well! The sour cream with the frosting and the sugar stiffened enough to keep the shape of the cake, but it also moistened the cake layers themselves.

THOSE LAYERS THO.

Verdict: I honestly thought I’d be chomping on a layered frosted cookie. But that was not the case! It was delicious, and the sour cream and honey flavors came through. In the future, I might experiment with condensed milk or cream cheese, though I got no complaints with the sour cream. It’s mostly for me at this point, because after a day or two, the smell and flavor of the sour cream started to get a bit more overpowering than usual.

So all in all, being back to doing Food and Fandom things was so totally worth.

The Girl in the Tower || A Review

Initial Thoughts:

Like its predecessor, this sequel is a slow-burning tale of characters in a fantasy, medieval Russia, where the world is churning out of the old ways and into the new. But there are still winter-kings and firebirds and men who cannot die. And it was so. friggin. GOOD.


THE GIRL IN THE TOWER

by Katherine Arden
Del Rey, December 2017
Historical fantasy
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies
provided by Del Rey and NetGalley (thank you!)

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

I do want to thank Jess Bonet and the wonderful people at Random House for the ARC of The Girl in the Tower and  a super lovely copy of The Bear and the Nightingale! I’ve been a little late with review copies lately, but I really did want to read this next book because I enjoyed TBatN so much and did want to get into what happened next with Vasya and her siblings.

I was definitely not disappointed. When I saw that The Girl in the Tower involved Sasha and Olga (two characters who disappeared near the beginning of TBatN and who I really wanted to get to know), I was so in. The fact that Vasya was dressed as a boy was also a plus, because when would I ever say no to a book with crossdressing women?

In any case, this book played out as a direct continuation of the events in The Bear in the Nightingale. Cast out by her village, Vasya pretty much runs away, finds Morozko, and gets trained by the frost-king to fend for herself. This would have been a problematic scene if not for the fact that not all of the “training” was practical, and some of it ended up being hijinks anyway, which I love, because why wouldn’t I love something like a possible romance between a witch’s daughter and an immortal death god? (Not that much happens, mind, this is going to be a slow-ass burn romance, isn’t it? DAMN YOU, ARDEN.)

It doesn’t start with Vasya, though. In fact, it starts with Olga and then Sasha and what they’ve been up to while the events in Bear took place. At this point, because of the way information traveled in medieval Russia, Olga and Sasha don’t find out about their siblings until they encounter Father Konstantin, who’s not quite done with causing trouble with his crazy-talk. Olga is a political game-player in her own right, a princess of Moscow, and Sasha is the right hand man (and monk) of Rus’ Grand Prince. While Olga is satisfied in her tower, Sasha is dissatisfied with staying in a monastery, and finds himself traveling with the Grand Prince in order to find out what’s been burning nearby villages. This is when Sasha meets up with Vasya, only…she’s dressed as a boy and that’s a scandalous thing. A very scandalous thing!

Like Bear, the book has a fairy tale feel to it, the kind of feel you get when you’re sitting near a fireplace–or, in my case, bundled up in a warm blanket and cozying up in bed–and sipping some hot cocoa. It is not meant to be a fast, action-paced read, and for the most part, Arden spends most of her time building up to the climax. When all the pieces are put in play, though, it becomes awesome and I admit I practically squeed a few times when she paid even more homage to Russian fairy tales by adding even more well-known figures in. (I won’t mention which ones, because SPOILERS.)

The characters were fun to read, even Father Konstantin had a storyline that gets tied into the narrative. I would love to see more of Midnight’s role in the story, and I feel like things are soon going to come to a head with what happens at the end of the story. Winter is waning, and with that said, so are Morozko’s powers. This means the Sleeper is waking, and I. Cannot. Wait.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! I actually liked this a bit more than the first book, mostly because HIJINKS ❤

This counts as Book #1 of my NetGalley and Edelweiss Challenge.


Have you read this book? What did you think?