12 Modern Takes on Fairy and Folk tales

If you love the delight, enchantment, and even bite of fairy and folk tales then do take a look at these books. I’ve chosen a real variety here, from sculpture sitting as a window to the soul to the Brothers Grimm, through to folk tales dancing in another world, and some thoroughly modern stories with the backdrop of a fairy tale. As with the traditional stories, sugar and spice is pushed to the side, instead you’ll be tested, emotions will be speared, and fear on occasion will stalk your thoughts. So with art, collections of short stories, and novels waiting to bewitch, entice, and beguile, we invite you to step into a world of make-believe.

The Charmed Wife

The Charmed Wife

Author: Olga Grushin Format: Hardback Release Date: 21/01/2021

A powerful, provocative and quite wonderful modern literary fairy tale, but if you enter expecting ‘happily ever after’ you’ll be sorely disappointed. Rather than sugar and spice and all things nice, you’ll instead find a novel brimming with exquisitely sharp and pointed attitude. Thirteen and a half years after Cinderella married the man of her dreams and she’s had enough, she wants out. The prologue pierces love, and binds hate, firmly setting the tone, yet wicked humour and gentle observations also tickle the page. The echoes of well known fairy tales make themselves felt, adding to the enchantment. There is much to take delight in, yet beware, all magic is paid for and you’ll need to be on the look out for hidden snares. I adore the tale that runs alongside the main story, of the two mice that accompanied Cinderella and live in a world circling through an entire civilisation. How easy it is to view what you want to see, rather than what is actually there. As the fairy tale splinters and a shimmer of reality breaks through, I found my thoughts tossed high in the air, and where they will land, I still don’t know. So bright, so clever, and thought-provoking this just had to sit as a Liz Pick of the Month. I danced through the deep dark magic of The Charmed Wife, long live the fairy tale that lives beyond 'happily ever after'.

Star Books
The Beauty of the Wolf

The Beauty of the Wolf

Author: Wray Delaney Format: Paperback Release Date: 14/11/2019

My heart is full of love for this darkly beautiful and mind-twisting novel. Set in the time of Elizabeth I, a curse given in anguish and hate is set to run amok. At birth Beau is burdened with great beauty and is due to be the cause of the death of his father, while unrelated to the curse, Randa is born a mix of beast and human. And, so begins a story of the greatest highs and the lowest lows, of revenge and hope, love and despair. The first sentence sucked me in, and I was held in thrall throughout. This is a completely gorgeous blend of Shakespearean drama, the very darkest of fairy tales, and the simply wonderful pen of Wray Delaney. I felt a reassuring half-formed recognition as I read, yet at the same time, a prickle of awareness that I was an explorer, charting an entirely new world. I highly recommend The Beauty of the Wolf to anyone who hungers for a bite of difference, with a more than a twist of glorious darkness. I have chosen this as both a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month, and a LoveReading Star Book, it’s fierce, it’s wonderful, I adored it. 

Star Books
Folk

Folk

Author: Zoe Gilbert Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/02/2019

Step into another world, just on the edge of existence, a fairy tale if you will, but somehow sharper, more vivid, and quite startling as it draws on folklore and oh so human qualities and reactions. On a remote island called Neverness exists a village, we hear the story of the villagers, separate, together, living with and alongside a spellbinding natural world. The author Zoe Gilbert was the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award and this is her debut novel. Each chapter is a story in its own right, yet each leads to the next and the next to make one complete tale. This is a book that tested, pushed and pulled me, as it speared my attention and hurled it aloft. I felt, really felt so many emotions, from deep aching sadness, to bounding wonder, through to discovering warm love in unexpected places. Zoe Gilbert has created a place apart, simple, wild, and stunningly beautifully yet be warned, it has a ferocious bite. If you look, really focus straight ahead, then take your thoughts to the corner of your eye and feel there, just behind you, you may just see a glimpse of Neverness. Or you could settle down, and allow Zoe Gilbert to guide you into a breathtaking world. Folk is one of my picks of the month and I have fallen rather deeply in love with it!

Star Books
The Singing Bones

The Singing Bones

Author: Shaun Tan, Neil Gaiman Format: Hardback Release Date: 01/09/2016

A gloriously enticing and shiver-inducing read, where sculpture sits as a window into the soul of the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm. I saw this book at a distance and it immediately beckoned to me, the cover ensured I just had to pick it up and open it. You know when there is a foreword by Neil Gaiman that it’s going to be something rather special. Each double page consists of a snippet from a Grimm’s fairy tale, followed by a photo of a sculpture depicting that tale by Shaun Tan. It sounds so simple, it is simple, yet he invokes such a deluge of feelings, even now, some days after opening it for the first time, I’ve developed goose bumps. Some sculptures made me shiver, sorrowful, others smile in delight, every single one spoke to me and I wanted to reach into the page and touch them. The sculptures feel old, as though they just came into being rather than being made, as such I felt as though the stories could have been written about the sculptures rather than the other way round. If you truly know your Grimms, then this book will sing to you, if you don’t then it will make you want to discover the true heart of them. ‘The Singing Bones’ is knowing, evocative, and a truly wonderful read, it’s a book to keep close at hand and dip into again and again. ~ Liz Robinson

eBooks of the Month
Foxfire, Wolfskin and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women

Foxfire, Wolfskin and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women

Author: Sharon Blackie Format: Paperback Release Date: 30/07/2020

Stunningly gorgeous short stories and wonderful illustrations make for an absolute treasure trove of a book. I have quite simply fallen in love with Foxfire, Wolfskin, it makes my heart sing. Discover 13 short stories about shapeshifting women, the shortest story being three and a half pages long. All are “either reimaginings of older tales, or contain characters, beings and motifs which appear in older tales”. On opening the book, I felt as though I was walking into an age old story, the descriptions are startling, vivid, touchable. I began with Wolfskin, which is sharp and edgy, it hurts, it feels… right. After finishing Wolfskin, I immediately read it again, this time out loud. I fell headlong in once more, and at the extraordinary end, emotional goosebumps skitter-scattered down my arms. All of these stories have a unique strength to them and I disappeared into each one. Just a note on the accompanying illustrations by Helen Nicholson. They are fresh, original, and yet have that same age old feel of the stories. At the very end you will find notes on each tale, the inspiration behind them and where the idea appears in folklore. Foxfire, Wolfskin is full of beautiful stories that take hold, bite, leave their mark and I adored it so much I had to add it as one of my picks of the month! 

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
Icelandic Folk Tales

Icelandic Folk Tales

Author: Hjoerleifur Helgi Stefansson Format: Hardback Release Date: 30/11/2020

This spellbinding little book contains a mix of 25 traditional and new Icelandic Folk Tales. Picture Iceland, and a mesmerising image is released, it’s the land of ice and snow, mountains, volcanoes, northern lights, tradition, sagas, and the perfect place for trolls, elves, and ghosts to reside. Hjorleifur Helgi Stefansson lives on the family farm, and grew up with his grandparents close by, saying: “They were born in the old time, in the old country, and they gave me, in my upbringing, a glimpse of another way of thinking and living. Their focus was on people and tradition”. He spends time in Scotland on the storytelling circuit and states that: “I proudly hold the title ‘Pet Viking’. These are tales that are told in the most simple yet vivid way, it was almost as though I could close my eyes and hear them being told. Folk tales often hold warnings, encourage integrity and morality, and of course contain delightfully scary supernatural elements. These tales have the traditional elements stitched into each page and are accompanied by illustrations by Sandstrom Fahlstrom. I’ve included Icelandic Folk Tales as one of my Liz Picks of the Month, it really would make a fabulous stocking filler for anyone who loves the art of storytelling. 

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
The Devil Aspect

The Devil Aspect

Author: Craig Russell Format: Paperback Release Date: 31/10/2019

This is an absolute belter of a novel. Awaiting you is a stunning, murderous mix of Eastern European folklore and a serial killer, set during 1935 in rural Czechoslovakia. Psychiatrist Dr Viktor Kosarek takes up a position in Hrad Orlu Asylum for the criminally insane to study the ‘Devil’s Six’, while in Prague, a serial killer is announced. The page and a half prologue sets the novel up brilliantly, the last sentence, so starkly delivered, chilled me to the bone. My mind entered the most vividly real locations, I slipped through the streets of Prague and flinched as I entered the Castle. Craig Russell crosses several genres and balances a number of themes seamlessly, which I just adored. My thoughts pushed and pulled at my emotions as they balanced together on a cliff edge. The Devil Aspect, is a dark, haunting whopper of a story and it set my imagination on fire. So good, it has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book and just had to be one of my Liz Robinson picks of the month.

Star Books
These Our Monsters

These Our Monsters

Author: Various Format: Hardback Release Date: 24/10/2019

Discover and be transported by eight wonderfully diverse stories based on the myth, legend and folklore at eight English Heritage sites from the toe of Cornwall to the tip of Northumberland. Editor Katherine Davey, English Heritage, and September Publishing have worked their magic alongside the authors while Clive Hicks-Jenkins has created striking and disquieting illustrations to accompany each story. To give you an idea as to the quality on offer, the authors in order are, Edward Carey, Alison MacLeod, Paul Kingsnorth, Sarah Hall, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Sarah Moss, and Fiona Mozley. Journalist James Kidd introduces the tales, highlighting the importance of folklore, and states that: “The moods of the eight stories are similar eclectic, by turns comic or uncanny, absurd or scholarly, angry or fanciful, unsettling of poignant”. The location each story has been based on, sits at the end of the story, as while some are obviously of the site, others hover, offer, suggest. The afterword by the knowledgeable Charles Kightly explains the background to each of these new stories, the history and tradition that each site is steeped in. From sharp and pointed, to lyrical and whimsical, the creative and inspiring stories in These Our Monsters twisted in my mind. If you enjoy an original and wonderful blend of folklore, myth and legend, stop right here!

Star Books
The Snow Song

The Snow Song

Author: Sally Gardner Format: Hardback Release Date: 12/11/2020

Deceptively simple, and simply lovely, this thoroughly modern yet ancient fairy tale both stings and enchants with its themes of superstition and prejudice. Edith is being forced to marry the village butcher, when in fact she loves and waits for the shepherd to return to her. When the snow falls, Edith stops speaking and listens in her silence as the village begins to change. Sally Gardener (who also wrote The Beauty of the Wolf and An Almond for A Parrot as Wray Delaney) has the most gentle, yet fierce and evocative way with words. I would read one of her novels, no matter what the genre, but she really does excel when magic touches realism. A crystal clear purity spills from the pages while the richly fulfilling storyline heads towards its conclusion. You may well find that a little piece of your heart breaks, yet there is so much to fall in love with in this striking tale. I’ve chosen The Snow Song as one of my Liz Picks of the Month, it’s a book that sits perfectly as winter approaches. 

Star Books
The Nesting

The Nesting

Author: C.J. Cooke Format: Paperback Release Date: 30/09/2021

Atmospheric, gothic, spine-chilling... The new thriller from C.J Cooke will haunt you long after you turn the last page... It was like something out of a fairytale... The grieving widower. The motherless daughters. A beautiful house in the woods. Deep in a remote Norwegian forest, Lexi has found a new home with architect Tom and his two young daughters. With snow underfoot and the sound of the nearby fjord in her ears, it's as if Lexi has stepped into a fairy tale. But this family has a history - and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build their beautiful new house. And those ancient, whispering woods have a long memory. Lexi begins to hear things, see things that don't make sense. She used to think this place heavenly, but in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks. With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care. But protect them from what?

Star Books
Midnight in Everwood

Midnight in Everwood

Author: M.A. Kuzniar Format: Hardback Release Date: 28/10/2021

Deliciously rich and dark, this reimagining of The Story of a Nutcracker by Alexandre Dumas is loaded with recognisable elements yet is as delightfully individual as can be. Set in Nottingham in 1906 ballerina Marietta’s family have proclaimed that she should stop dancing and take her place in society, when she meets neighbour Dr Drosselmeier she is thrown into a new world full of magic. This is the debut adult novel by M. A. Kuzniar, she draws enchantment and menace together and allows them to walk hand in hand. The beauty and strength of friendship sits centre stage while a relationship slowly blossoms. This most definitely isn’t a sugary sweet confection, a hint of the nightmare echoes through the pages. The traditional dark elements of folklore and fairytale scuttle and scurry with a fabulously modern edge. The characters crackle with energy, the setting sparkles with light and shade, and the ending, oh, that ending! Potently sharp and beautifully magical, Midnight in Everwood dances in to sit as a LoveReading Star Book, and Liz Robinson Book of the Month.

Debut Books of the Month
The Secret of the Tattered Shoes

The Secret of the Tattered Shoes

Author: Jackie Morris, Ehsan Abdollahi Format: Hardback Release Date: 26/09/2019

Tiny Owl Publishing have a series of books called ‘One Story, Many Voices’, where authors and illustrators explore well known fairy tales from different perspectives. Here, the Twelve Dancing Princesses from the Brothers Grimm are transformed into The Secret of the Tattered Shoes by Jackie Morris. I opened the package containing the book and exclaimed in delight. The illustrations by Ehsan Abdollahi carry the story perfectly, the gold glistens, the pears call to be picked, the background as stunning as the puppet-like characters. The story by award-winning Jackie Morris sits boldly on the page, simple, evocative, familiar yet different. The love that Jackie Morris holds for nature shines through, while the ending made me smile, it suits, it feels, well, just so right. The Secret of the Tattered Shoes conjures the traditional fairy tale yet awakens new feelings and thoughts. I absolutely adored this rich and vibrant tale, both for the new interpretation, and the illustrations which adorn it.

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