Novella Review: Clay Tongue by Nicholas Conley

Clay Tongue: A NoveletteClay Tongue: A Novelette by Nicholas Conley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful modern day folktale as a girl explores the scary and wondrous world beyond her house in order to alleviate the family’s frustrations in the wake of her beloved grandfather’s stroke. He’s been left aphasic, and the stress of caring for him weighs on the girl’s mother. The tale builds on the Jewish lore of the golem, a clay-made servant that has the ability to grant wishes. Though, with a girl turning toward fantasy, albeit unknown potentially scary fantasy, in order to solve a family’s problems, one is reminded of a less-dark Pan’s Labyrinth.

The seed for young Katie’s adventure is planted when she secretly reads her grandfather’s notebook containing either a story he’s written or a journal entry he’s made. The tale is unfinished, but tells of a young married couple many decades ago moving into a house just like her grandfather’s house that she lives in with him and her parents. The house in the notebook is in her town. And the name of the young bride is Kate’s grandmother’s name. When the couple move into the house, they are told of a cave in the back forested part of the property which–legend holds–houses a golem made by the original owner of the house. The golem was created to grant one wish to each person who dared visit it.

Even with such ripe fodder for the imagination, Kate’s brave adventure amusingly cites other fantastical creatures. With a mysterious key in hand, she finds a cave in the forested back part of the property:

Right above her head was an iron lock with foreign characters cut into it. Katie knocked, waited for a moment, hoping that maybe a friendly troll or fairy might answer. No answer came–so if there was a troll on the other side, it wasn’t a nice one . . .

The cave rumbled, as if from a minor earthquake. Katie stopped, and a deep growling noise reverberated from deep inside the cavern–a low, guttural moan, as if a dragon had just awakened . . .

“I’m here,” she whispered to any friendly trolls that might hear her.

This tale is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Children’s Book Review: The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

The Wolves in the WallsThe Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dave McKean brilliantly illustrates this tale with a collage of photographs and drawings to create a dark and foreboding ambiance perfect for this modern folktale. The drawings could be too sinister for some kids. Cleverly, the wolves are depicted as children’s drawings as if emerging straight from wild imaginations . . .

The tale revolves around young Lucy when she’s convinced that she hears wolves in the walls of her family’s old house. Her parents and her appropriately annoying younger brother all try to reassure her that she is mistaken. And that what she really hears is mice [mom], rats [dad], or bats [brother]. Presumably, these are all acceptable alternatives . . . yikes.

But then again, maybe Lucy is right . . .

This tale is not very long–which is fine. But I wish it were cleverer. I wish young Lucy or perhaps her whole family were more clever in their addressing the disturbances to their abode.

I’ve previously reviewed one other Gaiman/McKean collaboration and I loved it:
Signal to Noise–5 stars

I’ve also read Gaiman’s:
     “Black Dog”–3 stars
     “The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories”–3 stars
     “The Sea Change”–4 stars
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Bone Swans of Amandale by C. S. E. Cooney

The Bone Swans of AmandaleThe Bone Swans of Amandale by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The original Grim’s fairy tales, unlike their Americanized, Disney-ified versions, are dark and morbid tales. This novella taps right into that bizarre, macabre canon, even borrowing the known Pied Piper, to tell this tale of murdered and mutilated children, a power hungry ogress and magical races on the brink of extinction by genocide.

The hero of the tale is a morphing were-rat who’s in love with a were-swan, despite the cold, entitled royalty of the were-swans. The ogress-mayor of a nearby human village is using a legion of twenty children to hunt the were-swans and then the magic of a murdered child-turned-juniper tree to transforms the bones of the murdered swans into self-playing musical instruments.

And somehow, this convoluted premise works.

The hero-rat, his beloved swan who’s now the last of her people, a few mutilated kids that refused to play their role in the ogress’ machinations, and the rat’s friend The Pied Piper, scheme together to end the ritual of the ogress and to save the last swan.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I previously read this author’s brilliantly intricate novella The Two Paupers and the short story “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The House of Deformities” by Nnedi Okorafor

3 of 5 stars.

Experiencing a foreign culture opens one’s eyes to things one takes for granted. While everybody experiences these differences in slightly unique ways, the experiences of children and adults can vary quite remarkably. The rich fantasy life of children filters the experience of foreignness.

In this short tale, two American girls on an extended family trip to Nigeria grapple with their wild imaginations and the less familiar cultural practices especially as it concerns using outhouses or even the open terrain for bodily functions. The younger sister’s Stephen King novels add fuel to their vivid imaginations and run-ins with exotic animals and practices.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Children’s Book Review: The Dark of Deep Below by Patrick Rothfuss

The Dark of Deep Below (The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle #2)The Dark of Deep Below by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The exciting follow-up to The Thing Beneath the Bed, again employs the beautifully rendered artwork of Nate Taylor creating a children’s book feel for what the author deems not-a-children’s book. Patrick Rothfuss’ writing evokes the children’s story cadence and language while also nodding to and twisting the folktale bones beneath.

[Full disclosure–I’m extremely biased in this reviewing , as I experienced this book with hundreds of others at a live reading by Patrick Rothfuss himself. Audible has nothing on live story telling.]

This tale centers on a princess living in a marzipan castle with her best friend, Mr. Whiffle the teddy bear. Together, they like to have Calvin and Hobbes style adventures on the castle grounds. But, a new character promises to spoil their carefree fun. The princess has a baby brother now, a prince naturally. She is nothing if not put out by having a brother to watch out for.

When he toddles off on his own, she and her trusty stuffed companion search the castle and grounds for sign of the little prince. They finally spot tracks–leading into the darkest of dark caves. And, the princess is paralyzingly afraid of the dark . . .

The tale is highly recommended.




[Check out my other reviews here.]

Children’s Book Review: The Thing Beneath the Bed by Patrick Rothfuss

The Thing Beneath the Bed (The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle #1)The Thing Beneath the Bed by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fairy tales and folktales used to be dark, dark things desperately trying to keep children out of The Black Forest and alive into their teens years, by which time they were considered adults. Things have come a long ways with overly protective parents and coddling, happily-ever-after stories. Thanks to the beautifully and brilliantly rendered artwork by Nate Taylor, this tale has the look and feel of a children’s book. But, Patrick Rothfuss has twisted this not-for-children’s tale into a dark and twisted story of horror.

Full disclosure–I’m extremely biased in this reviewing , as I experienced this book with hundreds of others at a live reading by Patrick Rothfuss himself. Audible has nothing on live story telling.

This dark tale centers on a princess with a paralyzing fear of the dark who lives alone in a castle (made of marzipan) with her best friend and stuffed companion, Mr. Whiffle the teddy bear. Together they enjoy Calvin and Hobbes style adventures across the large manor. By day, that is. At night they huddle in the princess’ bed avoiding the creature that lives beneath it. She leaves a candle burning at her bedside at all times.

Life in the castle gets a little more complicated when the princess gets a new kitten. A kitten that wanders–under the bed . . .

This dark tale is highly recommended.




[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Keeper of the Akku by Alex Fosse

Keeper of the AkkuKeeper of the Akku by Alex Fosse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most post-apocalyptic tales show what has become of human society. This children-friendly tale doesn’t as the focus is on a culture that didn’t emerge from the remnants of humanity, but rather from an intelligent mutant or cross-breed species that is decidedly great ape in origin. [Think: Planet of the Apes.] While pockets of humanity exist, most of what was and rumors of mankind numbering in the billions and spreading across the entire planet has descended into cultural myth for this low-tech, village society.

The tale centers on 3 characters. Brother and sister, Droggo and Olka, are from the non-human village and are wary of the hairless, pale humans. They’ve left the safe confines of their village because for generations, their family has served as Keepers of the Akku for their village. The daunting task involves taking the mysterious black boxes [the akku, aka batteries] a couple days journey across the barren lands to where the human city can be seen. There sits a strange empty building where the akku can be “fed”[recharged]. Their power is needed to bring up the village’s water from deep underground. The nature of the akku and the rechanging station is not a mystery nor spoiler, the descriptions make it clear what it is that Droggo and Olka don’t understand. The clear filtering of the tale through their eyes is brilliant.

The third main character is the human girl that has run away from the city and hidden herself at the charging station. She knows what the akku are, and says as much.

The heart of the tale is the cross-cultural relationship growing between the 3 as cultural sensitivities are respected, and yet prejudice stands in the way of any easy companionship.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
[Check out my other reviews here.]