Reading, review

Two of a Kind

I’ve been reading a lot the past week. At least for me, two books in a week is a great deal of reading. The first I tackled was A.G. Slatter’s All the Murmuring Bones. The cover caught my eye while I browsed the library’s new acquisitions. (As an aside, I am stoked that the library is open again. Curbside is great, but finding something random and new on the shelves is magic.)

Isn’t it pretty?

I went through my ritual: read the blurb, study the cover, read the first paragraph or two. That’s it. I pay no attention to the praise–no one puts negatives on the cover, so in the end, it’s meaningless. (I also ignore movie reviews. I like what I like, regardless of what anyone else thinks.) There was a dark feel to the text, sort of gothic, and given the state of the world, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read an unrelentingly grim book, but it’s a library book, so if I DNF-ed it after a chapter, no harm, no foul.

That didn’t happen. In fact, I DNF-ed the book I went to the library to pick up, but that’s fodder for another post. All the Murmuring Bones I read in one sitting. It was that good. In subject, it falls into the same genre as Circe and The Witch’s Heart, and like those two, it is bleak in spots, reminding me of works by Edward Gorey, but unlike the other two, there is a fairly steady positive rise throughout the whole.

Set in a world of Slatter’s creating, it combines nods to fairy tales most people know with twists of the author’s clever brain. In some spots it feels like high fantasy. In others it is reminiscent traditional mythology, and though the end is unexpected, Slatter lays it out perfectly.

If you liked either Circe or A Witch’s Heart, you’ll like All the Murmuring Bones.

Which brings me to the second book I want to talk about. Online, a fellow author mentioned a blast from the past, a book I haven’t read in 25 years, and back then was at least the third time I’d read it: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper.

Not so pretty, but just as good.

If all you know is the movie that came out some years ago, forget it. It never happened. The makers tried to modernize a work that didn’t need to be re-worked, all to the detriment of the story, but when hasn’t that been true of Hollywood?

However, if you level the criticism that it’s a children’s book, you’d make a fair point, but so what? It’s a well-written children’s book, one that cemented a love of Celtic mythology at a young age.

Like All the Murmuring Bones, the atmosphere of The Dark Is Rising is brooding and grim, which is strange for a book set at Christmas, but Cooper deftly weaves the threads of mythology and modern interpretation to create a new whole. So too does Slattery. Both books build on extant ideas and take them to new places.

Between the two, I prefer Cooper’s use of language. As a writer, I admire her ability to deftly and simply create imagery that sticks in the reader’s mind. Many such images have stayed with me since childhood. There’s much to be learned from children’s books, there always has been. As you build your TBR for the summer, I recommend both of these new takes on old tales.

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