Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review Roundup: Dapper Fairy Tales

I was going to review four books today, but as usual I got too chatty for my own good. :D So here are the first two:

 Return of the Dapper Men , a graphic novel by Jim McCann & Janet Lee

I've wanted to read this since I spotted the short teaser included in the Archaia Anthology, so when I saw Janet Lee at Dragon*Con a few months back, I decided to pick up a signed copy:

 Janet's doodle on the title page. 

As with the Archaia teaser (which was actually a bonus section not found in this book), I found the art of Return of the Dapper Men to be utterly captivating, and the writing to be...well, something of an enigma.

It's definitely a kind of whimsical, steampunk-ish fairy tale, but the story carries itself in a way that made me feel like I was always just missing something important. In the foreword Tim Gunn mentions you'll want to have a dictionary and Google handy to look up all the various "puzzles, riddles, and anagrams," which got me all excited, but then I couldn't figure out which puzzles he was referring to. Which made me feel like an idiot. I pored over every page, seeking out hidden Easter eggs or visual puns, but the only thing I spotted was a copy of Othello in a room with a black-and-white dotted rug:

You can just see the Othello book (spelled backwards) in the top frame. (Anyone else remember the game?)

Putting aside my dismal sleuthing skills, the story itself was still charming. In a world divided between children and robots (there are no adults), a human boy and a robot girl form a friendship, and then face the return of the Dapper Men: men who fall from the sky and set about reinstating time itself. The story kind of makes sense. The ending, less so.

This is a hefty book that you'll want to take your time with, but more for the visuals than the writing. Overall I think I'd recommend it more for art lovers than for those looking for a modern fairy tale.

Which is the perfect segue to our second book today:

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente (Phew! Is THAT a mouthful!) 

I've seen this recommended many times since it debuted last May, but given its description as a "modern fairy tale" I didn't know quite what to expect. Having read it, I can honestly say nothing would have prepared me properly, anyway. Even now, it's a struggle to find words that can do this tale justice. 

This story It reads like poetry, but really interesting poetry. It's shocking. It's visceral and beautiful and painful at times. It will lull you into the false sense of security that only a fairy tale can offer, and then slap you with a modern slash of abandonment or nakedness or practicality. The heroine September isn't particularly lovable, and yet by the end you'll want to stand up and cheer her name. Her transformation is one of empowerment and sacrifice, and I hope you won't mind my telling you that the ending is a pretty darn good one. 

There are two scenes I want to mention specifically, which in my mind are the best and most disturbing of the book, respectively. The first is when September prepares to actually circumnavigate Fairyland in a ship of her own making. [grin] She needs rope, so she cuts off her hair to make some. She needs a sail, so she removes her dress to use that. Then she stands on her little raft, head shorn, naked, and proudly facing into the wind as she sets off to rescue her friends. It's one of the most powerful visuals in the book, and probably the point at which I wanted to cheer the loudest. This is no shrinking Alice, running from flowers. This truly is a heroine for modern times.

The second scene is easily the most viscerally disturbing one I've read in recent memory, even though all it entails is September catching and eating a fish raw. The description is literally gut-wrenching, if you'll pardon the pun, and I was skimming past it in horror. The fact that September is sobbing and clearly as miserable at the task as we the readers are at reading it doesn't help. If you're ever on the verge of becoming a vegetarian, just read that passage a few times. [shudder]

Other than the fish scene, I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of The Girl Who, and highly recommend it to just about everyone. The book started as a free web novel, by the way, and you can still read the first eight chapters over at the author's website here. (Well, supposedly you can; for some reason  I can't get the chapter links to work. Let me know if they work for you, won't you?)

And finally, is it weird to recommend someone else's recommendations? Because I'm about to. Author Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson fame) has a huge page of mini book reviews that's just fantastic. Most are young adult fiction - and several I've already reviewed here -  but there are older titles and a few non-fiction picks sprinkled in as well. Plenty of these are going on my to-read list, so definitely go check it out!

I hope you enjoyed, and as always, I welcome your book suggestions in the comments! You can also click here to see a list of all the titles I've reviewed so far.


  1. I agree about Dapper Men. We read it in my YA book club because it was our end-of-the-semester graphic novel pick, but we all felt like we didn't get it. But the artwork is gorgeous. We liked the art from other artists as well.

  2. Nope, all the link seems to do is add a "chapter01" to the end of the web address every time I click on it... But I may just have to haul off and buy the book. Sounds AMAZING!

  3. Shelley in So. IllinoisOctober 17, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    Have you read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver? It isn't new or really YA fiction, but the story is centered around two young sisters, whose family feels called to become missionaries. The discoveries they make about themselves and each other as they settle in this small village in Africa are truly astounding.

    It really resonated with me because my mother was raised in the same sort of small, restrictive Christian church and many of the beliefs and rhetoric seem to resemble the stories I have heard from her my whole life.

    My favorite chapter, though, is told from the mother's perspective. She talks about how her family wants a miracle every day. She describes the amount of work it takes to have water to boil and gather food from the local market and how much time each of the small tasks takes. Every chapter up to this point is told from one of the daughter's perspective and you have been cheering them on or sympathizing with the daughters. Suddenly you know that there are many other stories going on around them and it kind of shifts the whole universe of the story around.

    Amazing writing. The end jumps ahead in time and kind of lost me, but their time in the village still gets me excited to read again. Ooo! And the chapter about the title! Awesome description! Really worth picking up.

  4. Have you ever read any Neil Gaiman or Gregory Maguire? They're definitely adult books, not young adult, but enjoyable. I read Maguire's What-the-Dickens last summer. It's about tooth fairies and I have to say I really wasn't prepared for the world it created, it was that different. It took me a while to get into it (mostly because I was trying to read it while working my full time job and working as the assistant director for a musicl production) but once I got into it I couldn't put it down.

    I read Gaiman's Stardust a few months ago. I had been meaning to read ot for a while because I absolutely love the movie. The book was definitely different but I love it just as much.

    I just thought of some more books! :D The How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell, while for children, are really funny. A friend recommended Ella Enchanted because I didn't read it as a kid and while it is very different from the movie, it too is just as enjoyable. I also read Tuck Everlasting for the first time this year, a recommendation from another friend. It's a rather sad story but worth the read. And lastly there's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Have you read it? I love the movie, I was even the assistant director for a production of the musical this summer. But the book is definitely worth the read. Oh and then there's The Completelt Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. I love Wilde's plays and was surprised when I saw a book of fairytales at the bookstore but they were just as great.

    Wow, that's more recommendations than I was planning!

  5. ACK! re: Fairyland
    1. There's a mini prequel online too: The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For A Little While
    2. The sequel is supposedly out and I haven't found it yet! Boo!
    3. Seriously though, I was in love with that book in 21 pages.

    "And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them."


  6. The author of Fairyland did a two book series that explores the dark (and in the second book, VERY DARK) side of fairy takes. Be forewarned if you decide to try Valente's other work. The prose is still incredibly gorgeous, and the tales she weaves are haunting and complex .. but book 2 was far beyond too dark for me.

    In the manner of recommendations, though, I've got something a little off your normal radar, but really short. Legion, by Brandon Sanderson. It's clearly a novella, but the concept (a brilliant man with multiple personalities that he knows aren't real, and yet interacts with as though they are roommates) is just fabulous, and the sci-fi concept of the plot is a good one.

    Also, I'd highly recommend Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, assuming you find her blog (The Bloggess) as hilarious as just about everyone else does.

    And last but definitely not least, I'm becoming a Frances Hardinge fangirl. I finished Well Witched, which was VERY good MG fic, and I gobbled up the sample for her more recent A Face Like Glass and have it on hold at the library. Fantastic prose, characters, and story. (and the author's a fan of steampunk, so you know she's supergreen).

  7. The Girl Who has quickly become one of my very favorite books. I listened to the audiobook while driving on my own to Kansas as the scouting force for our cross country move. It was the most perfect story to hear, I cried with September as she sailed Fairyland's seas and I crossed the Flint Hills, and returned home with her just as I pulled into the (rented sight unseen) new house.

  8. Delightful! One day I will read the titles you recommend... One Day...

    Also, my house owns an Othello game! I have it on my dinky cell phone by the name of Reversi, as well. It is a delight, and one of the few strategy games I can play.

  9. You know I was -this- close to sending you an email asking if you were a fan of Cat Valente.

  10. I've been looking at The Girl for awhile, I guess I should go for it.

    An excellent book that also involves a robots and reads with the smoothness of a fairytale is "The Search for Wondla" by Tony DiTerlizzi. In it, Eva9 is a human girl who has lived her whole life in an underground bunker, being cared for by robots. When she is chased from her home, she meets all kinds of fantastic creatures. The only thing I had any slight issue with is that it's obviously a set up for the next book(s), the second one is out now.

    I'm sure the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull has been recommended often, and I'd like to add mine too. None of the five books in the series feels like a filler book, and they're all excellent.

  11. The Girl Who is already on my to-read list but I'm glad to hear a positive review.
    Because readers of this blog are likely to enjoy works by Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, and Paolo Bacigalupi, I recommend you grab the Humble eBook Bundle - $14 will net you 8 books and 5 graphic novels!
    Hurry though, there's only 5 days left to buy the bundle, and it's for charity. The average price of $14 may shift, but if you pay the average or higher you'll get the whole bundle.
    Humble Bundle

  12. I am fully determined to reccomend 'mortal engines' by Philip Reeve, and the rest of the series, to you every time you do one of these. It's a futuristic post-apocalyptic steampunk-type novel with fantastic characters and settings and the best ending of any series ever. I really want these books to gain more exposure as they are among my very favourites, please give them a try.

  13. Have I recommended The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer?

    It is an absolutely beautiful book which I has totally fallen in love with, but surprisingly hardly anyone else seams to have heard of it. It's all about a group of children, they didn't know each other before the Day when everyone else on the planet disappeared; but they find each other and start to build a new civilisation... and start building a machine that could bring back hope to the world.

    Really, truely beautiful

  14. I adore The Far Flung Adventures series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. I started with Fergus Crane, then read Hugo Pepper and Corby Flood. They are absolutely fantastic books for any age!

  15. I LOVED LOVED LOVED The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making! I too had a really difficult time writing my review because unless you have already read it, there is no real good way to describe it. All I know is that it is going on my shelf of rereadable classics of awesomeness!

  16. Thor's wedding is a hilarious book by Bruce Coville its really short too i read it in one sitting the second time around most of Covilles books are simply fantastic the worst/best fairy godmother ever Jeremy Thatcher dragon hacher the monsters ring well every thing by him except the last story in odds are good and the skull of truth all his stuff is really interesting and usually good for a laugh due to the unique qualities also a wile back i read May Bird and loved it it was a bit Tim Burtany but it was a lot of fun i havn't read the other two May Bird books but some day this book is great if you want something halloweeny or just to let your imagination run free trying to picture every thing

  17. the two princesses of bammar is a lovely tail its by the same auther as ella enchanted i loved this book the first time round and the second was almost better and the third was just as good with many unexpected twists i just adore it

  18. I just finished the DiTerlizzi books and also highly recommend The Search for Wondla and A Hero for Wondla. Can't wait for the next adventure for Eva Nine. The world he has created is rich and the illustrations beautiful. Also love Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett and anything by Ursula LeGuin.

  19. Oh, Jen, PLEASE read "The Little White Horse" by Elizabeth Goudge. It's beautiful and filled with romance, revenge, reconciliation, and quirky characters. The main character is a strong female type, which was rather unusual back in 1946 when it was first published. It begins with a classic theme, a little orphan girl discovering that she's inherited a position of power, and then makes you forget you've ever read a story like that before. Also, there's a dog that might be a lion. It's an old-fashioned yet modern fairy tale, and one of my favorite books ever.

  20. jayMariah

    The sequel to Fairyland is "The girl who fell beneath fairyland and led the revels there" and I just got it out of the library today.

    I loved the first one and I'm old, old. old!

    I'd highly recommend it!

  21. I love The Girl Who [...]! I just saw another comment referring to a sequel, which I must track down immediately.

    Have you read Seraphina? That's another good YA read.

  22. Thank you for your recommendation of The Girl Who...

    I bought it and am now quite enjoying it. You're right, it's a wonderful book. Have you read any Patricia McKillip? Similarly beautiful, dreamlike and delightful.

  23. I just finished listening to the sequel, "The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There." I liked it just as much as the first one.

    In fact, as soon as I saw you were doing a book review post, I thought "I should recommend these books to her" and then I saw that you were actually reviewing the first one!

    This is only my second ever Epbot comment (and I've been following since the very beginning), so you know I must be excited!

  24. Have you read the Last Elegant Bear series (well two books) by Dennis Kyte? they are beautiful and amusing, the first books is: The last Elegant Bear: The Life and Times of Abiner Smoothie. adorable. and of course the Andrew Lang fairy series is always a classic.

  25. I just bought The Girl Who on my kindle, thanks to your recommendation...I was aching with a good book, and this fit the bill beautifully! I'm halfway through, and have already recommended it to others! Love it...thanks!

  26. Thanks for the book recommendations!! I'm always looking for new books to read!! I second the recommendation of Brandon Sanderson's work, Legion. I just finished it, and it is excellent!! I'm a huge fan of his anyway, his Mistborn series is fantastic as well!

  27. The Girl Who is one of the best books I've read in the last five years. Possibly one of the best books I've EVER read.

    After I finished it, I spent two hours wandering around in a daze, unable to do anything, and every once in a while going "Wow."

    September is so REAL. And she LEARNS.

    Most fairy tales are, in essence, coming of age stories, but The Girl who goes so far beyond that and becomes a Learning How To Be Human story.

  28. I noticed another comment suggesting The Poisonwood Bible and I just had to pipe in. It's one of my favourite books ever but not YA at all. I recommend it highly but in a different light.

    As for something more in keeping with these reviews, have you ever read Momo by Michael Ende? He's the author of The Neverending Story (which I assume you HAVE read and, if you haven't, STOP EVERYTHING and go read it NOW!!). The story is about a girl, Momo, who is an extraordinary listener and finds her own family of friends by simply listening to their woes. But in the meanwhile a plot is afoot (always wanted to work that expression into a sentence!) by the Men in Grey to steal people's time and only Momo notices and can do something about it...

    Beautiful imagery, great story, well-written characters. It's a lovely book, for YA so it should be right up you're alley, and has a certain breath of fresh air about it. :)

  29. Hey Jen: I just finished the Incarceron series by Catherine Fisher and thought it might be right up your alley = dystopian + steampunk(ish) + fantasy. Its a pretty complex plot but enjoyable. Love your book posts!

    ~Allison (Mrs. Grymm)

  30. If you haven't put "Cinder" by Marissa Meyer on your reading list yet, you totally should. I just finished it, and can hardly wait until next year for book two. A little predictable, but the storyline is setting itself up to be completely awesome over the rest of the series. :)


  31. If you like the art of Dapper Men, may I suggest picking up a copy of The Wonderland Alphabet? Alethea Kontis is the author, and she wrote a beautiful story, and then Janet Lee illustrated it, too. There is nothing bad about this book, and I bought it for myself but think it would make an incredible baby or early birthday gift, too.

    (amazon link:

  32. Jen, I was wondering if you've read the other books in Valente's series. I started reading her books, thanks to your review, and fell in love with her writing.

  33. Commenting a year later... :-)
    I read "The Girl Who..." as it has such a beautiful cover. It was in the Juvenile section of our library, and my reading experience was marred by that fact. All I could think was, "This is not a Juvenile [approx grades 2 - 6] book." I may have to give it another go.


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