Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Five Poisoned Apples" edited by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Yes, it's true.  I have finally finished reading all five stories in Five Poisoned Apples.  Yes, it took me months.  Let me 'splain.

I started reading it immediately on my Kindle the night it was released in early December.  When my paperback copy arrived, I finished reading "Falling Snow" by Skye Hoffert, the first story in the collection.  And then I got busy, and Christmas happened, and so on, and when I picked the book back up again in January... well, the trouble, you see, is that I love "Falling Snow" by Skye Hoffert so much that I just read "Falling Snow" all over again.  

But then I was a good, well-behaved reader and did move on and read the rest of the stories.  I had to stop between a couple of them because of other need-to-be-read-now books, which happens a lot to me right now.  But anyway, I loved the whole collection.  It's gorgeous.  In fact, I feel a little bad about having such a huge favorite in this collection, because all 5 stories are excellent.  And all so different!  But the truth is, "Falling Snow" speaks to me in a way that few fairy tale retellings have, and so... I love it best.

Full disclosure time.  I was on the judging panel for this contest.  There were multiple judges for the first round, so I only got to read like a sixth of the stories submitted.  I chose my top 5 from the ones I read, plus some honorable mentions.  And then the contest was out of my hands, and others made the final decision of which stories would win and be in this collection.  However... three of the stories in this book are stories I selected as the best from the 20+ I read.  Which makes me feel a special sort of protective love for this collection.  Obviously, this had nothing to do with how good a judge I am, but the fact that I mysteriously got better stories to read than the other judges, it would seem!

My absolute top pick was "Falling Snow."  The first time I read it, it knocked my metaphorical socks off.  The writing was so vivid and unique, the characters intriguing, the plot complex -- I loved it immediately.  I read it a second time, just to savor its special dark-and-zesty flavor.  I let the final judges know in no uncertain terms that I was convinced it should be a winner, and that I would cry if it didn't make the final cut.

But that's as far as my influence could go.  I waited for months, hoping against hope that this story I loved so much would be chosen.  In the meantime, I became friends with Skye Hoffert.  She's such a sweet, humble, talented faun stepping out into the wide world and learning to share her words beautifully, one tiptoed step at a time.  

The night they announced the contest winners, I participated in a live reveal on Facebook, learning in real time who the winners were as the Rooglewood Press team shared them with us one by one.  They saved "Falling Snow" for last, I'm convinced just because they knew it would torture me.  And when they announced that it won, I cried anyway.  Tears of joy and relief and exultation for this beautiful, sharp-edged bauble that would now be shared with the world.

Okay, so this is turning into less of a review and more of a Hamlette-sniffling-quietly-to-herself song of maudlinity.  Time to actually review things.

"Falling Snow" by Skye Hoffert sets the Snow White story in a magical circus where all the performers and circus workers are magical beings... except one young girl.  She works as a clown but aspires to be a tightrope walker, and she has no idea that everyone else is magical.  And she has no idea she's in mortal danger.  But with the help of the circus owner's son and a mysterious newcomer, she almost could have a chance to overcome the evil forces surrounding her.  This story is so sharp and pointy, but also sweet and soft, and altogether dark and delicious... I love it dearly.

"Raven's Heir" by Jenelle Hovde is more what I think of as straight-up fantasy, and it has this little tinge of Robin Hood flavor that I dig.  An orphaned princess seeks to unite her kingdome against her step-mother, who has been ruling as regent ever since the king's mysterious death.  She escapes the castle and finds help from a band of rangers, one of whom turns out to be the boy she was betrothed to when they were both very young.  I liked this one a lot, especially the heroine who disguises herself as a boy, as that's a favorite trope of mine.

"The Fairest One" by Cortney Manning is also straight-up fantasy, but with a very different texture.  Here, humans enslave dwarves and use their magic for their own purposes.  But a young princess befriends a dwarf when she's but a child, and as they grow up, she comes to rely on his friendship and wisdom more and more.  Eventually, he helps her escape her greedy stepmother and seek assistance from the dwarven council to overthrow the evil queen and free the enslaved dwarves.  It's kind of got a bit of the story of Queen Esther from the Bible woven in as well, because there's an emperor seeking a queen who holds a beauty contest that figures into the story as well.  Also a really fun twist on the story.

"Red as Blood" by Maddie Morrow is my other favorite in this collection.  It involves vampires, and I really like vampires.  This story is told from the point of the view of an assassin who's tasked with hunting down and killing a member of the royal family, but not told why, and the near-disastrous results.  It really takes the familiar parts of the Snow White story and twists them in new and fascinating ways.  But it does definitely get dark and a little bit scary.

"Snowbird and the Red Slippers" by Rachael Wallen is the eeriest of these five stories.  It mixes the fairy tale The Red Shoes with Snow White and sets the whole story in a prestigious ballet school in New York City, with a poor North Korean dancer at the center.  Passion, obsession, culture clashes, and envy all play a part, and I found it to be a stunning conclusion not only to this collection, but to this series as a whole.

(From my Instagram account.)

Particularly Good Bits:

I was always performing and I didn't even need a crowd (p. 13, "Falling Snow").

Chayse was a razor blade, sharp and alluring.  To touch him was to accept the risk of getting cut.  And I was already bleeding (p. 19, "Falling Snow").

She was supposed to be just another piece in mother's treasure trove.  A valuable to be coveted, a walking jewel begging to be taken, but to touch it was to ask for death (p. 22, "Falling Snow").

The truth was sharp and cut my tongue as it slid off (p. 77, "Falling Snow").

When exposed to a dangerous adversary, she came at him with everything she had, even if it was just a pocket knife (p. 85, "Falling Snow").

The ceiling wept glittering stalactites, its cold tears ending in jagged points (p. 131, "Raven's Heir").

Lifting the lid, she reached inside and pulled forth the rainbow of beautiful embroidery, her only keepsake of her mother (p. 249, "The Fairest One").

Tingles ran up his spine and blood pounded in his ears.  In her hands was one final message.  If she kisses you, you will die (p. 353, "Red as Blood").

This was home.  Her floors -- the wood flexing under her leaps, dusted with rosin and sticky with sweat.  Her walls -- the severely honest mirrors and the barre, her first pas de deus partner (p. 433).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG/PG-13 for violence, suspense, young people in danger, and some mild romance.  I just handed off my copy to my 11-year-old and I think he'll be fine.  So maybe like a PG-10?

This is my third book read and reviewed for this year's edition of the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.


  1. Great review!!!!

    Falling Snow was one of the most delightful fantasy stories I read last year, and it reminded me so much of my favorite fantasy author (who I later found out is ALSO Skye's favorite, so YES.)

    1. Thanks, Jessica! It's one of the most delightful fantasy stories I've EVER read :-)

  2. Don't mind me, just sitting in a pool of tears here. Happy tears. It's so amazing to think about that time after I submitted the story, I thought it was just going to get lost in the mix, and I didn't think I had a shot honestly. Knowing that you got it, and saw the potential in it. That you understood it... it's mind blowing to me. I'm so grateful that you were the one to get my story, you were the answer to my prayer. Like my own personal angel. :D

    Thank you for everything you did! It's been amazing having someone as talented and experienced as you are in my corner. It's nice to not be alone with it anymore. The faun description is quite accurate. XD

    Thanks for all the beautiful things you said about Falling Snow! I will treasure them forever. I've been feeling super insecure about my writing lately, so this was a great confidence boost that was definitely needed.

    One of the quotes you chose, the one on page 77, was a personal favorite of mine. Glad you liked it too!

    Thank you for everything! Your friendship has been such a blessing to me. <3333

    1. Skye, I never mind you.

      Clearly, God directed your story to the judge who would see the best in it. He did the same for my western Sleeping Beauty, as it went to a judge who appreciated westerns, not one who might dismiss them due to genre-bias. Absolutely answered prayers going on there.

      I've been feeling pretty cruddy about my writing lately too, or rather, the lack thereof. So I'm glad this helped you with your own writing issues at the moment!

      My favorite moment in the whole story is when Chayse confronts Cynfael after the kiss, and Cynfael says, "It's not like I enjoyed it. I prefer my partners willing." My estimation of Cynfael did a total 180 there, and I'm still in awe of the amount of character-building you crammed into 11 words there.

      Thank YOU for entering your story and becoming my far-away friend!

    2. Well that is comforting!

      I think so too. Love when He does stuff like that. Seeing answered prayers happen is amazing. He's been doing it a lot lately even with little things. It's been such a blessing!

      It's hard to stay motivated. Writing takes an emotional and mental toll on me. Hope you're feeling better about it, because I love your stories! You did!

      I really didn't want people to think he was the kind of guy who would do that. I knew if he was, he would forever be a villain to not just the reader but me too. Glad you appreciated that part. Thank you!

      It's been a pleasure! Yes, far-way friends are amazing to have! <3

  3. I was ABSOLUTELY fine. -Hamlette's 11-year-old son

    1. Well, there you go -- a sterling recommendation on age-appropriateness from an 11-yr-old who hijacked his mom's account to post a comment :-D

  4. This is one I still haven't read (actually I don't think I've read any of these collections yet. Or maybe I did one). *tries to remember* Either way, they're on my list of someday must-reads. Glad you enjoy this one!

    1. Rissi, I still haven't read the very first collection, Five Glass Slippers. And I might be a teeeensy bit biased toward Five Magic Spindles ;-) But I think this might actually be the best of the bunch. Hope you get them read eventually!


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