For many, today is just another day. For some, it’s a day of remembrance and for others, a day of joy. One woman in particular and those whose lives she’s touched have cause for the latter. Over the winter holidays, she had to undergo surgery. Thousands of dollars add up quickly and often breaks the bank. Like many Americans, she didn’t have health insurance. Luckily, there were enough people able and willing to help. The brainstorming to raise funds spread like California’s wild fires. The sad fact is that there are too many people out there who don’t have that safety line or what should be a basic right– health care. People were more than happy to donate their time, energy, and money, but they shouldn’t have had to raise over $25,000 in the first place.
One of those fundraising ideas was Ravens in the Library, an anthology full of stories, music, and art by Amy Brown and numerous others. All works were donated by their creators and all proceeds went/go to S.J. Tucker, a bard extraordinaire whom I mentioned back in January while she was in the hospital. With today marking her surgery’s four month anniversary, Sooj wrote a heart-felt thank you note. Here’s a snippet from her blog:
My one regret is that I cannot at this moment thank each of you in person, let you read in my eyes what it means to me that you came to my rescue when given the opportunity. I, small girl with guitar who runs around singing for her friends and stealthily making a living at it, deserve all of this magic, all of these wonders? Some would say no, but you have said yes. The fact is that this anthology is so incredible, so unbelievable, that I am still reminding myself here, now, in the spring, that it’s real, that I can hold it and read it, as can everyone. And so, my words of gratitude can never be enough.
What I can do, which I hope will add up to something like ‘enough’ one day, is keep singing, keep adding more interesting art to the world, just as each of you do. Wherever I go, I can keep telling the story of how I was once rescued not so very long ago, by an army of magicians and avengers and artists and wordsmiths, most of whom gave of their talents in spite of not knowing me at all. This in itself is an incredible tale, but at the end, I can always pull the actual, tangible book from under my bard’s cloak, to prove it true.
Ravens in the Library is a mere reflection of the love, compassion, and generosity that still exists in this rat-race world. It’s truly a magical book and suiting for the skinny white chick whose battle cry is “LOVE!”. I think many of those who contributed in one way or another feel it’s a small gift in return for all that Sooj has given, personally and professionally. That this is one book I will treasure for ever more is an understatement. The anthology is also one heck of an addition to a fantasy-lover’s library and is a limited release. As far as I know, it’s still available for purchase, I haven’t heard anything saying otherwise.
I’ve been debating whether to review Ravens in the Library: Magic in the Bard’s Name as one entity or two. Given its length of twenty-five short stories and some other tid bits, and today being today, I think I’ll go for the latter. So here’s the first half of the book I’ve been slowly savoring since its arrival in March…
What’s an anthology in honor of a bard without song, or at least lyrics? With the book being titled after Sooj’s song, it’s fitting that “Ravens in the Library” is the first piece. Drawn from Neverland is also “the Wendy Trilogy”. Suitingly side by side are the sensual “Creature of the Wood” with music by Heather Alexander and lyrics by Philip Obermark and Sooj’s responding song, “Daughter of the Glade”. Alexander isn’t allowed to leave the stage without performing that trademark song, which has been one of my favourites since ’97.
Neil Gaiman – “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire”:
After struggling to write about life-as-it-is, a young man heeds advice from a feathered friend and turns to fantasy.
The clever, Poe-esque piece shows that one person’s fantasy is another person’s reality. 5/5
- “There are some as what they are. And there are some as aren’t what they seem to be. And there are some as only seem to be what they seem to be.”
- “It’s an artist’s job to show people the world they live in. We hold up mirrors.”
- “Is not the highest impulse in mankind to urge towards freedom, the drive to escape?”
Ben Dobyns – “Out of the Box”:
Compared to other residents of the Walnut Creek American Lifestyle Community and Shopping Center, 11-year old Lady Ashton Ermaline Weatherbie is garish and disruptive. As a bribe for good behavior, she is gifted with a husband in a box. They’re the perfect playmates, donning bright colours, singing, and spinning poi, but growing up happens.
A fun little read, especially because the wiley characters remind me of two flame-spinning gypsies in particular. 4/5
- “Children will self-correct minor deviancies quickly when their peers are modeling socially normative behaviors.” Maybe. Maybe not.
Ari Berk – “Missing Limb”:
A girl makes her roots among the Birch Folk, where she becomes a mother and a guide to those lost in the woods.
Home can include unexpected places and what was may not always be. Poetic prose with lines like “at the garden gate, its paint peeled with age, a simple sorrow befell her”. 3/5
- “I am here, for here I be, and what comes next I’ll have to see.”
- “Always the great tree will shelter the sapling. Always the mother will hold out a hand to the child.”
Charles de Lint – “Ten for the Devil”:
Together Staley and her blue spirit fiddle make a calling-on music. Soul-speaking music is all fine and good, but what happens when the devil gets interested? A blues-playing guitarist, wits, and jumping the groove just might help.
The storytelling and descriptions make this a really enjoyable, colorful read about music’s magic and how it can be unforgettably eternal. It reminded me of the song “the Devil Went Down to Georgia”. 5/5
- Music- “Some of it’s safe and pretty. Some of it’s old and connects a straight line between you and a million years ago.”
- “Change the music. What you hear, what you play. Maybe even who you are. Lets you fix things.”
- “Nothing’s easier to trip a body up than habits and patterns. Why do you think the Gypsy people consider settling down so stressful?”
Nathan Ballingrud – “You Go Where it Takes You”:
Toni’s life as a single mother working in a diner unexpectedly changes when someone gives her the power to be anybody. It’s just a matter of switching skins.
It’s a well written piece about second chances and redemption. I’m not quite sure about the ending, which depending on one’s view, can be seen as either happy or unhappy. 3/5
- “Long as you know there are options in life, you get scared of choosing the wrong one.”
Elizabeth Jordan Leggett – “Mercury”:
It was love at first sight for seven-year old Tommy and by naming the paint and chrome he made her real. Unbeknown to him, Cora Ann steps in when a night of crime and vengeance goes awry.
A good little read for anyone who loves their car and the adventures they take together. 3/5
- “Great music stirs the senses and silences a room.”
“Time slows down only for dying and speeding down empty highways. Winding thoughts of should-have-been are the only clocks when tires hiss with asphalt. Wise drivers know not to get lost there. Legendary ones just enjoy the ride. No one owns the moment, no matter what the automobile salesmen might try to say. You can flow into it, trudge long within it, and sometimes find Enlightenment because of it, but changing it is never going to happen. Premonitions and chrome, they only reflect the angles you wish to see. This is even true when there’s no hope you’ll find out if the visions were true. Memories, on the other hand, are living things. There’s no question, then, that a life was lived.”
Carrie Vaughn – “1977”:
A fan of disco since hearing the Bee Gees in music history class, Oz wanted to learn to dance from someone who was there and understood the music. He teleports Megan onto his spaceship Travolta for dance lessons. With her life a mess, Megan wants to stay but the officials send her back because they’ve seen her future.
A fun little jaunt that shows life has a way of working itself out. 3/5
- “Everyone loves romanticizing the past, but who’d really want to live there?”
- “You have to learn to feel the music before you learn any steps. The steps don’t mean anything if you can’t feel it.”
- “The important part was still the music and how it ran through you. It didn’t matter where or when you were.”
Francesca Lia Block – “Ice”:
After watching each other from their facing apartments, a painter and a musician love each other as siblings. Their joyous days at the park are put to an end when “the porn goddess, ice sex, glistening and shiny and perfection” goes for K after a performance. K becomes cold and withdrawn, eventually disappearing while his sister does was she can.
It’s a good retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s the Snow Queen, but some of the writing makes it a bit confusing. 3.5/5
- “There is the relief of finally not being alone and the relief of being alone when no one can take anything away from you.”
Alexandra Duncan – “Kinderkochen”:
A tale about siblings held captive by a witch. The German title roughly translates to children cook.
This spin-off of the Brothers Grimm tale has a slightly different ending. 2.5/5
Holly Black – “Heartless”:
While pillaging bodies strewn among a battlefield, the usually unfeeling Ada helps a survivor who says he can give her anything she wants. 3/5
Midori Snyder – “King of Crows”:
The crow princess bargains with her father that if a fiddler is unable to teach her to sing she’ll allow her father to pick her husband.
This well-written piece ends with a surprise twist. 4/5
Catherynne M. Valente – “the Ballad of the Sinister Mr. Mouth”:
After seizing another ship’s cargo, Mr. Mouth has a new instrument made. He and his human-parrot crew fill the island of Macaw with “cacophonous music”.
This poetic, vivid piece is…macabre and different and may leave the reader going “hrrmm”. That’s not a bad thing and it’s only due to lacking more appropriate words that I use those. Now that I’ve read two shorts and Palimpsest, Valente’s unique storytelling may be better suited to novels. Regardless, I’ll be reading more from this wordsmith. 4.5/5
- “A name dropped on a map is lost among the slew of letters.”
- “It is the creature which shows his pieces which is the greatest, not the one whose pieces are shown.”
Ravens in the Library continues…with stories by Erzebet YellowBoy, Storm Constantine, Shira Lipkin, Angel Leigh McCoy, SatyrPhil Brucato, Alexandra Elizabeth Honigsberg, Kris Millering, Jaymi Elford, Terri Winding, Laurell K. Hamilton, Mia Nutick, and Seanan McGuire.