Six Crimson Cranes is an Asian retelling of the fairy tale The Six Swans. Magic is forbidden in Kiata. The protagonist, Princess Shiori, is born with magic which she tries to hide from her family. That includes her father the Emperor, her step-mother Raikama, and her six brothers. Shiori is betrothed to a lord from a smaller kingdom, and she has no interest in getting married, let alone being shipped off to a cold northern land with “that barbarian lord of the third rank.” In trying to hide her magic, she misses the betrothal ceremony, meets a dragon, and gets the attention of her stepmother. This “evil stepmother” curses her and her brothers. Her brothers are turned into cranes. And Shiori herself is cursed to have a wooden bowl stuck on her head. The bowl is made of walnut, which conceals objects inside from prying eyes and contains the magic. So Shiori is unrecognizable and cannot use her magic. She is told that if she utters a sound, one of her brothers will die.
I find it very interesting that the majority of the book our protagonist cannot speak. She can mouth words, and write (as long as it does not reveal her identity). And she does have a companion she is bonded to that can hear her thoughts. The first person point of view really gets us into her head, so we as a reader can hear her voice and her intentions, and see how that communication often falters. It provided great conflict.
As in the original tale, our princess is given a difficult task to perform to free her brothers from their curse. I like how Lim wove that aspect in and really made it part of the mythology and magic. The mythology is really well done, so rich and thought out. There is magic, and demons, and dragons, and enchanters. Though the curses are broken by the end of the book, there are greater threats that have been revealed which set us up for the second of the duology (The Dragon’s Promise).
I really enjoyed the romance as well. While still cursed, Shiori encounters the man she was betrothed to. They are given the chance to fall in love gradually, and without the pressures of betrothal or royalty, as Shiori is going by the name Lina. That helped counter a problem in other fairy tales, where often the couple find each other at the end, but have no time for a real romance to grow within the story.
Overall, the story was very satisfying and enjoyable. I look forward to reading the sequel.
Another four months have passed, so let's check in on my progress! At my last update, I had only finished four books out of the twenty-six. I feel much more on track now.
Recap to Date
I have completed the Picture Book portion of my A to Z reading challenge! These I did make an effort to read in order, as I had plenty of access to books at the library where I work. I also read more than the 26 needed, for that same reason. So this covers the first picture book I read for each letter.
Spreadsheet of A to Z titles here.
My favorites from the first batch (A to P): Owl Moon by Jane Yolen for a classic and lovely imagery poem, Invasion of the Unicorns by David Biedrzycki was a delight to read, and I Am You: A Book about Ubuntu by Refiloe Moahloli was a very uplifting title.
Favorite title from Q to Z: The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau felt like a fairy tale, with great art and message. It was the only one on this second batch that I gave five stars to. I was somewhat disappointed in my choices overall.
Some I still enjoyed and rated 4 stars: Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster by Manka Kasha was a great visualization of anxiety and how to deal with it. Wombat Underground Sarah L. Thomson was inspired by the Australian wildfires and how animals were saved by hiding in wombat burrows. The Yippy, Yappy Yorkie in the Green Doggy Sweater by Debbie Macomber was a fun read about moving to a new place and exploring the new neighborhood while searching for a lost puppy.
There were a few great picture book reads outside of my A to Z list that I will mention in my end of year review. Are you doing any reading challenges? What are you currently reading?
Thorn is a retelling of Grimm's The Goose Girl. The original is a strange story with a lot of elements that I wasn't sure a new telling could make sense of. But Khanani surprised me. More on that in our upcoming book club discussion. I hadn't seen this tale done before, so that was refreshing as well.
Alyrra is a princess in a small kingdom. She is not happy in her royal life, and when she gets betrothed to the greater neighboring kingdom's prince, she fears her life will get worse rather than better. I would warn a trigger for physical abuse. Not very many described, but much in the emotional aftermath and state of mind. Alyrra understandably does not trust men, especially those in power. So when circumstances, magical as they may be, give her the opportunity to live out life as a mere goose girl instead, Alyrra struggles with that desire for freedom conflicted with any responsibility for duty that she might have.
Alyrra has to learn a new way of life, in a new city and country, where she doesn't speak the language. I really felt for Alyrra's character, and enjoyed watching her growth as she learned to care and trust for others. The book deals with differences in caste, and what is justice. The ending was well done and satisfying. This is the first in the Dauntless Path series, but it is a standalone. The subsequent books are a spinoff featuring a new character. I definitely recommend this, both as a Goose Girl retelling and as a fantasy.
Recap to Date
Books read: 4 titles for the main challenge (letters A, F, P, and Q)
Books currently reading: 7. I may have gotten carried away... but this is typical of my currently reading list. This also doesn't count books I am reading for book clubs or other groups either...
Two years ago, Elizabeth and I started Briarbook Lane together. To celebrate, we are having a contest! Check out the details on our new Briarbook Lane News blog.
Here is a look back at what I have accomplished this last year.
I started Briarbook Lane Press to self-publish my own work.
I started my newsletter in September 2021. The initial email chain for signing up is seven emails, and I have sent out seven monthly emails.
Make sure to sign up so you don't miss out on future emails. As a bonus, you get a free short story.
I wrote twelve blog posts. It was definitely in spurts, and not on a consistent basis. My newsletter kept to a much better schedule. I will have to do better! Check out the timeline of my posts below.
I hope you stick around with us for another year!
My new novella is now available on for Kindle! The Blazing Princess is the first in a new series of fairy-tale retellings, The Tales of Tessagonia.
The Blazing Princess
Aurelia is cursed to die after eighteen years, with the caveat that true love can follow her into the spirit world and bring her back. To ensure her the best chance, Aurelia’s parents betroth her to one of the neighboring prince twins. But what happens when she falls in love with the wrong prince? Who will save her?
The Tales of Tessagonia
Bentos and Delwyn were alone in the sky, only the silent stars to keep Them company. They created an earth and creatures to fill it, for Their entertainment. Their seven daughters, the muses of Lesenti, watch over the continent of Tessagonia. This land has four kingdoms--Vernissia, Arania, Kether, and Senatin--surrounding an inland sea. Tessagonia is ringed by the Outer Isles, where the old gods have been banished.
You may hear the echo of familiar stories from our own lands. Curses, romance, magical gifts, and gods both light and dark.
In exchange for saving her father from dying in the freezing winter wilderness, Echo Alkaev agrees to stay with the white wolf in his house under the hill for one year. Echo North weaves together the the tales of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Beauty and the Beast, and Tam Lin. All have in common falling in love with a beast. Meyer combines these so expertly it is as if they were always meant to be the same story.
I read at least 57 books in 2021 (probably missed tracking a few picture books or graphic novels). You can see My Year in Books on Goodreads for additional stats and the full list of books.
My Favorite Reads from 2021
What is it?
The A to Z Reading Challenge is simple. You have one year to read 26 books, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet. I am not sure where I saw this challenge, but decided to adopt it for myself. And I just decided I want to do it twice; this would be a really fun picture book challenge.
Come up with a list of 26 titles, starting with each of the letters of the alphabet. Can be any type of book you want: novel, anthology, graphic novel, novella, poetry, nonfiction, children's book. I'm not judging! My list is mostly novels, with a scattering of short story collections and non-fiction.
Once you have your list, you can start reading. I'm going to wait and start in January. Order is not important. You can read from A to Z, or cross them off in whatever order you are feeling. Pacing should be about two books per month, or one book every two weeks.
I'll keep updated on the sidebar what letter and title I am currently reading. You are welcome to read along with me, or at your own pace. Here is my list on Google Drive.
Where to find books?
Start by looking at your own bookshelves. Are there any books you own and have been meaning to read? Next, check your wishlists, library lists, and Goodreads 'want to read'. Ask your friends, ask social media. You can ask for general suggestions, certain genres, or specific letters. You may find a great recommendation you wouldn't have considered on your own.
If you have trouble finding a title for a certain letter (like X), there are lists on Goodreads!
I am buying one book for this challenge (Xanadu anthology, older book, had to buy used). The rest are coming from my own collection or from the library.
Picture Book Challenge
This is just a fun bonus challenge. I'm not going to get a list of these in advance, due to the nature of my job; I will see plenty of picture books as I work at the library. 26 titles, again starting A to Z, but all picture books. I'll track these on a second tab on my sheet. Later in the year, as my list starts filling in, I may need to look for specific letters, but I'll start by picking up whatever grabs my attention. I'm a sucker for pretty covers, especially on picture books.
Let me know if you're going to do either (or both) of the challenges. I already have my main titles, but feel free to recommend picture books. I'm always happy to recommend books as well, so don't hesitate to ask!
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.
A to Z