book review | once

A few months ago Emily Ann contacted me. Considering we are official co-authors, we take it as sheer fact that we are one another's editors as well. (It's very convenient to have a friend, co-author, and editor all built into one wonderful human.) Well, she contacted me, eagerly explaining this collection. This collection of beautifully retold fairy tales.

I edited Sweet Remembrance and fell head-over-heels in love with her story. It's no surprise, then, that I jumped at the chance to review the whole collection! If the rest of the stories are as good as Em's, I thought, I'm in for a treat.

I was not disappointed. Once is a delightful collection of fairy tales, containing stories by several authors of whom I'm familiar with as well as a couple of new faces. The combination of voices and themes was superb. The bright characters, vivid descriptions, and engaging plots kept me on my toes, and I eagerly gobbled one story after the next. I didn't want them to end! 
On that note, I'm so thrilled to announce Once's release today! It's only $4.99 for Kindle on Amazon, and I can assure you it's worth every penny. Intrigued? I've reviewed each story individually, so keep reading! 

 The Mountain of the Wolf 
by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I didn't intend to fall in love with this story. After reading the first couple pages, I decided it was far too confusing, as the point of view was unnecessarily exchanged several times. But when I finally dove in, I was hooked.

Sparsely populated Western mountains, wild mustangs, ruthless outlaws, and one lonely, hurting girl set the stage for a heart-pumping, heart-warming novelette. Foley conjured the most unlikely setting to pen a Little Red Riding Hood retelling, and somehow managed to positively nail it. All the nods toward the original fairy tale are delightfully (and sometimes chillingly) symbolic. The characters are vivid, precise, and very human, to the point that a reader might smile knowingly and declare, "That is me."

Due to the choppy beginning, I chose to rate it four stars. But that certainly isn't to say I didn't love the story. I was up all hours of the night simply because I couldn't put it down! (On a side note, as you read Quincy's dialogue, picture Matthew McConaughey's voice like I did. Just trust me.)

She But Sleepeth
by Rachel Heffington

This modern-meets-fairytale is entirely not what I had expected. Fresh, clever, and occasionally unnerving, this time-traveling delight left me blinking from the magical whirlwind. And, unfortunately, mourning a very unsatisfactory ending.

But, in spite of the ending, the story had me charmed. The heroine is not a typical princess. In fact, she is shockingly ordinary. Average features, average behavior, average cellphone wielding civilian, average orphan passed between foster homes. She's not extraordinary; we relate to Maria because of it. And she made the magic seem all the more real.

Colorful descriptions, witty dialogue, and a truly brilliant clash of modern age and historical kingdoms, She But Sleepeth is a first-rate novella. It's a pity the ending had to come and bring with it painful realities. Dear story, I give you four stars.

by J. Grace Pennington

Rumpled is the narrative the collection needed. In the midst of all the sorrowful tales and dragon-like plots surrounding it, this Rumplestiltskin retelling is sweet, simple, and rather unusual. Needless to say, I adored it.

Set in an unspecified age in a rather vague part of the American continent, Rumpled is bursting at the seams with distinctly lovable characters (a trademark of Pennington's, I've discovered). This gentle story contains less description and more engaging dialogue, allowing you into the easy-paced, charismatic lives of two young people who didn't marry for love. (Side note: Amanda and Byron were positively darling.)

Chock-ful of curious gears, familiar inventions, and very sophisticated robots, this steampunk fairy tale caught me off-guard, and I've fallen completely in love with it. Four and a half stars.

Sweet Remembrance
by Emily Ann Putzke

The beauty of Sweet Remembrance is hard to put into words. Why? The beauty is so mingled with grief, one can only smile around the ache in the heart.

Kasia and Romek are innocently sweet and overflowing with life and love. But darkness comes. Slipping this romantic couple into the midst of a horrifying Jewish ghetto, their sweetness becomes but a wavering beacon in the undiluted shadows. And yet somehow it becomes all the brighter and more precious because of it.

Putzke is a budding author with a knack for penning uncommonly believable characters and settings. Sweet Remembrance will leave you with deeper thoughts and sweeter pain than one would expect to find in a little collection of retold fairy tales. This story deserves four and a half stars. (And a million and a half bittersweet tears.)

Death Be Not Proud
by Suzannah Rowntree

This Snow White retelling is occasionally confusing, fiercely dramatic, and rather morbid. All of which are, generally speaking, not my cup of tea. However, that isn't to say I didn't enjoy it. Nor is it a badly written tale.

The highest praise for this novella deservedly goes toward the vivid description. Rowntree has a knack for describing her settings so extensively that you can not only feel the icy water, but you can smell the cold air, taste the morning fog, and see the snow-capped New Zealand mountains in the distance. Truly superb. She chose a spot-on setting for this jazz-age mystery-thriller.

As mentioned before, the mystery becomes very confusing at different points, and the Snow White themes were cleverly hidden, sometimes too hidden, only revealing themselves at the very end. But despite the complicated plot (or, more likely, due to the complicated plot), it was certainly a page-turner. Three and a half stars.

With Blossoms Gold
by Hayden Wand

The caboose of the collection is a retelling of one of my favorite fairytales: Rapunzel. And as I was reading Wand's curiously charming story, I could almost picture the thought-process she must have plowed through to create such a fable. "The original Rapunzel is locked in the tower against her will. Let's turn that backwards. Maybe she locks herself in the tower."

Set in a rich era of Italian history, this retelling has everything from rumored witches to ancient catacombs, impending war to a fair, frightened maiden who does not desire rescuing. Sweet descriptions and tart banter go hand-in-hand in this love-rooted adventure. (Side note: Ben is my favorite. The end.)

Although the characters were vivid and delightfully different, their speech tended to spring from modern lingo to extensively historical vocabulary on whims, jolting the reader out of the story rather than adding to the fantasy. On the whole, however, I happily rate With Blossoms Gold a four star novelette, haven been driven to tears and laughter all in one pretty tale.