Tag Archives: OnceUponATime

The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe

The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe

Tom Doherty Associates, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

An epistolary novel, dark, weird and wonderful.  A perfect read for the Once Upon A Time IV challenge.

Baxter Dunn, recently released from prison, finds himself staying in a motel in a small town in the Midwest.

Bax writes letters, to his brother, to a friend in jail, to his brother’s wife, as he try to figure out his future.  The letters tell an odd story.

When Bax meets a real estate agent who tells him he is heir to an old, empty house his life becomes, well, unusual.   Things change quickly,  life is totally transformed.  Bax is confronted by strange creatures and events, becomes involved with odd, fey people.  His letters tell of magic, of different worlds, of sorcerers.  I had to keep reading, needing to know what happened.

Bax is an oddly compelling character.  Wolfe has created a  mundane world that becomes creepier until, by the end, it feels like a weird, twisted dream.  This book reads so smoothly I was surprised by how quickly it was over and I wanted to turn around and read it again.  Read it,  you’ll love it.

One final note.  I had to grin when I first opened the book, found the dedication page, and read:  To Neil Gaiman, the best of writers and the best of friends.


Filed under Fantasy, Once Upon Time IV, Review

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

ROC, Penguin, New York, 2008

The Last Unicorn is a marvel.  If you love fantasy, if you love magic, read this book.  Written 40 years ago, it is a classic that has stood the test of time.

A unicorn lives in a wood all alone.  Hearing a conversation between two hunters she becomes curious and decides to search for others of her kind.  This quest leads to meetings with villains, monsters and an unlikely magician named Schmendrick.  There are battles and losses, witches and kings.  The only way to give you a taste of this morsal is to let you read. 

     Sometimes she thought if men no longer know what they are looking at, there may well be unicorns in the world yet, unknown and glad of it.  But she knew beyond both hope and vanity that men had changed, and the world with them, because the unicorns were gone.  Yet she went on along the hard road, although each day she wished a little more that she had not left her forest.  From page 11.

     So they fled across the night together, step by step, the tall man in black and the horned white beast.  The magician crept as close to the unicorn’s light as he dared, for beyond it moved hungry shadows, the shadows of the sounds the harpy made as she destroyed the little there was to destroy of the Midnight Carnival…From page 54.

     And far away on the other side of the unicorn, Schmendrick the magician stalked in silence.  His black cloak was sprouting holes, coming undone, and so was he.  The rain that renewed Molly did not fall on him, and he seemed every more parched and deserted, like the land itself.   The unicorn could not heal him.  A touch of her horn could have brought him back from death, but over despair she had no power, nor magic that had come and gone.  from page 106.

     Beagle is an accomplished story-teller.  Using clear crystal-like language he brings this classic tale to life.  The Last Unicorn is  filled with scenes of ethereal beauty, terror and very human foibles.  It is often laugh out loud funny.  It is a book I would recommend to anyone interested in the genre, fans and new comers alike.

Have you read and reviewed this book?  Please leave a comment so I can add a link to your blog.


Filed under Fantasy, Once Upon Time IV, Review

Once Upon A Time III


Carl V’s fabulous Once Upon A Time Challenge III ended on June 20th.  I finished Quest the First but felt I would have liked to read more.  Fantasy was a first love for me but I had drifted away from reading it and this challenge brought me back.  I have already put it my the calendar for next year!  How about you?  Thanks, Carl.

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip

The Language of the Night by Ursula K. Le Guin

Annals of the Western Shore: Gifts, Voices, Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin

Short Story Weekends:

Red As Blood by Tanith Lee

Kupti and Imani adapted by Lenora Alleyne Lang

The Water Poet and the Seasons by David J. Schwartz


Filed under Challenges

Annals of the Western Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin


Annals of the Western Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin is a trilogy,  Gifts, Voices and Powers.  It is not clear if there are other titles in the works. The books are marketed as Young Adult Fantasy but,  as with most Le Guin titles, they can be enjoyed by adults.

Gifts tells story of the Upland clans, who struggle to survive in a harsh environment .  Each clan has a special gift, passed down through each generation.  These are powerful, threatening gifts including mind control, the ability to twist and deform a body, death from a wasting illness.  The gifts are used to protect each territory and to overpower others.  The clans live in fear,  worried that a neighbor might use their gift as a weapon.

There are two dear friends, Orrec and Gyr, who refuse to use their powers in ways that will harm others.  They struggle against their families and their heritage to find a right use for their gifts and, in doing so, grow into their true selves.

Voices tells of the city of Ansul, once a thriving place of merchants and scholars, conquered by the Alds who believe reading and writing are works of the devil.  The people of the city are poor and struggle under the occupation. A young women named Memer lives in Oracle House, once a place of great learning, and learns to read with the help of The Waylord.  The Alds believe Oracle House is a place filled with deamons.

Then one day a storyteller from the Uplands arrives in the city, along with his wife and their lion.  Everything in Memer’s live changes as she learns her true calling.

Powers follows the lives of  Gavir and Sallo, a brother and sister captured in the marshes and brought as slaves to the city of Etra.  They live in a great house where they are well treated, considered part of the family.  Gavir is trained to be a teacher but struggles with strange visions.   Sallo is raised to be a “Gift-Girl” for a young man of the great house.  They never question their lives until tragedy strikes. This  is a story of trust and betrayal, trials and self discovery.

All three of these books are beautifully written, in clear flowing language.  Le Guin evokes the land and the people with quiet grace.  Powers has just been awarded the 2008 Nebula Award for best novel.  I am hoping there are more books in this wonderful series.


Filed under Challenges, Once Upon A Time III, Review, Young Adult

The Language of the Night by Ursula K. Le Guin

8888b654372ea23eee067e0a70bd0677 The Language of  the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin

Harper Collins, New York, 1992

Before the days of “Harry Potter” and Peter Jackson’s wonderful “Lord of the Rings”,  fantasy for children and adults was a struggling genre.   Now it can be a marketing phenomenon.  One of the people who made success possible for  J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Myers is author and critic Ursula K. Le Guin. She made it possible by being a brilliant writer and a fierce supporter of both fantasy and science fiction.

Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea was my first introduction to “modern” fantasy.  I had tried reading Tolkien in seventh grade but the style was just too dense.  I had read Lewis, Kipling, White, Carroll and all the fairy tales and ghost stories I could get my hands on.  My small town library had the classics and very little else. I was at a loss.  Then, around the same time, I discovered The Earthsea Trilogy and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and my life changed forever.

Le Guin’s book of essays is a treasure, and, I think, a must read for readers and writers of fantasy.  The essays, written in the early 1970’s,  are arguments for the critical acceptence of fantasy and science fiction.  They demand that both forms qualify as “literature”.  They are well structured and layered with the history of  myths,  legends and fairy tales.  She supports her position with Jungarian psychology and makes references to unusual works of fantasy, including Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright.  Some of these essays may seem a bit dated but they all contain wonderful insight and Le Guin’s biting sense of humor.

The book also includes introductions to several early novels, essays about the craft of writing and talks given at award ceremonies and writers conference .

I greatly appreciate Le Guin’s thoughts about children and her understanding of their needs,  abilities and intellect.

The young creature does need protection and shelter.  But it also needs the truth.  It seems to me that the way you can talk absolutely honestly and factually to children about good and evil is to talk to the self – the inner, deepest self.  That is something children can and do cope with; indeed, our job in growing up is to become ourselves…What we need to grow up is reality, the wholeness which exceeds human virture and vice.  We need knowledge, we need self-knowledge.  We need to see our selves and the shadows we cast. The Child and the Shadow, 1974

And her love of the imagination.

...I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child but a child who survived.  I believe that all the best facilities of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these facilities are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality.  And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these facilities is the power of the imagination.. Why Americans are Afraid of Dragons, 1974

Ursula K Le Guin continues to write for adults, young adults and children.  Her novel, Powers , was recently won the Nebula Award for Best Novel of 2008.


Filed under Once Upon A Time III, Review

OUT III – Neil Gaiman

out3banner61001 This is not a book I have read.  This is not a review.  This is one of my favorite authors reading a poem.  I felt I had to share the link because it is beautiful. Thanks to Ladylink534.


Filed under Challenges, Once Upon A Time III, Poetry

Short Story Weekend

out3shortstoryFor the Once Upon A Time III challenge.  A story about a poet from Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2007, edited by Rich Horton, Prime Books, 2007.

The Water Poet and The Four Seasons by David J. Schwartz is a short, sweet, lyrical story about traveling through the  seasons, writing poems, and love.  The poet, commissioned to write poems for each season, lives a  full life during a year before passing on the job to another.  It is like the pagan round of the King, with birth, childhood, marriage, children, the mellowing of old age and death happening in a compressed period of time.  There is an acorn, and an oak tree.

Of course, being a water-poet, the poems are all about weather, spring showers, cold drizzle storms and snow.

Summer has a list inside a waterproof sleeve. “Three dozen thunderstorms, eleven with tornadoes.  Sixteen sun showers sonnets.  Hail the size of robin eggs.”

Schwartz has fun with alliteration, never heavy handed, just enough to bring a chuckle.  I enjoyed this story and, not being familiar with the author, will look up, and read his other work.


Filed under Once Upon A Time III, Short Stories, Short Story Weekend

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip


Once Upon a Time III Challenge

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip, Ace Hardcover, 2008.044101630801_sx140_sy225_sclzzzzzzz_1

In my opinion, Patrica A. McKillip is one of the best fantasy authors on the planet.  I love her lyrical language and her ability to weave odd bits of old folk and fairy tales into something new.  Her stories read like those written two or three centuries ago or better yet never written, but told around camp fires or in an inn filled with wood smoke, laughter and marvelous food.

The Bell at Sealey Head is the story of a seaside town, it’s people and it’s history.  There is magic and mystery.  There is a hidden world within the ancient Aislinn House,  containing a spellbound land and, of course, a princess, Ysabo.  The tale turns on an invisible bell that rings at sundown.  The townspeople have their own theories about the bell, most fail to hear it anymore.

Judd, the son of a local innkeeper, hears the bell, but is too busy reading books and preparing for guests to wonder about it much.  Gywneth, daughter of a local merchant,  hears it and spends all her free time writing wonderful stories trying to unravel the bell’s mystery. When Ridley Dow, a stranger from the city,  arrives the mystery deepens, eventually drawing the others into a final struggle to break the spell.

I enjoyed this book, but  not as much as other McKillip novels.  I think it is because the last book I read,  Solstice Wood, is a more modern take on the same idea, a seaside town and a mysterious house. I also have to say that the ending of seemed a bit rushed.   Do not let that deter you, this is a wonderful read.

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Filed under Once Upon A Time III, Review, Uncategorized

Short Story Weekend – Kupti and Imani


A story from Tatterhood and other Tales edited by Ethel Johnstone Phelps, published by The Feminist Press, 1978.  This story is a tale from the Punjab region of India, was is adapted by Lenora Alleyne Lang and appeared in Andrew Lang’s Olive Fairy Book.  .

Kupti and Imani tells a tale of two very different sisters, the daughters of a great king.  One day the king asks the princesses  if they are satisfied to leave their lives  and fortunes in his hands and he receives two very different answers.

Kupti, surprised at the question, says “In who’s hands would I leave them, if not yours?”   Imani  says  “No, Indeed.  If I had the chance I would make my own fortune.”  The king, displeased with her answer tells Imani that she  is too young to know the meaning of her words.  In his anger he grants her wish.

The king gives Imani  to an old, crippled beggar as a servant and theygo to live in his tumble-down  hut  “which was bare except for an old bedstead, two old cooking pots and an earthen jug for water, and one can not get much comfort out of such things.” Imani develops a plan and, taking the old man’s last penny, she buys some oil and some flax.  With the oil she massages the beggar’s crippled leg, with the flax, on a borrowed wheel and loom, she spins and weaves a fine cloth.  Her care of the beggar heals his leg and her hard work brings them a small fortune in gold.

As the story develops Imani shows industry, wisdom and even develops healing powers.  Unlike most of the women in the folktales I grew up with she is a strong, kind, caring and wise heroine.

I love to read this book  to 1st and 2nd year elementary students.  We always have great discussions afterwards!


Filed under Once Upon A Time III, Short Story Weekend

Short Story Weekend


Red as Blood by Tanith Lee.

From The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, edited by A. Susan Williams and Richard Glyn Jones,  Penguin, 1995.

A retelling of Snow White with a unique twist.  The Witch Queen is deeply religious and is concerned about Bianca, daughter of the first queen.  Bianca does not like mirrors, in fact, the Queen’s magic mirror does not even see Bianca.  Binca will not accept a golden crucifix nor will she walk among white roses.  There is  huntsman, and seven dwarfs and, in the end,  a prince riding a white horse.

This tale is strange, dark and very well written.  Find it if you can.


Filed under Challenges, Once Upon A Time III, Short Stories