My Literary Travel Bucket List

Shocking statement of the decade:  I’m one of those readers who like to blur the line between fantasy and reality.  When I read about a particularly dreamy setting, my internal voice turns into Liz Lemon, whispering, I want to go to there.

I’ve been lucky enough to fulfill a few of those bookish travel dreams in the past ten years.  I visited the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco because the October Daye series told me I could enter a faery knowe by crossing the Moon Bridge.  I searched for selkie stories on the Aran Islands, just as David Thomson did in People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend.  And I did my best to push the trapped shopping cart the rest of the way through Platform 9 ¾ in London’s King’s Cross Station.

A blurry photo of a woman with shoulder-length dark hair in a black winter coat pushing a quarter of a shopping cart into a brick wall. Above her is a sign that says Platform nine and three quarters.Er, the magical auras in this spot tend to mess with photographic quality.

But my literary bucket list is still giving me a major case of wanderlust, and I’ve decided to make it my New Decade’s Resolution to experience at least a few of the following book-inspired adventures in the next ten years.

The Road goes ever on and on…

Posted in folklore/fairy tales, graphic-novels, literary travel, mermaids, Ocean Girl radar | 4 Comments

My Blogging Valentines

Happy February, Bookwyrms!  

Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s Day, Palentine’s Day, Singles Awareness Day, or even Discount Chocolate Day (Feb 15th), this is a season to share the love.  Accordingly, I’d like to take this opportunity to send a virtual hug to some of my favorite book/writer blogs (and one music blog).  I’ve made it a New Decade’s Resolution to get more active in the book blogosphere, and the following are the ones with which I’ve been interacting most often in the past year.  I’ve also narrowed my list to single-writer blogs, rather than group/organization blogs (with one exception).

Quick bias warning:  two of these are written by offline friends.

  • Froodian Slip — She had me at the Hitchhiker’s Guide wordplay.  I know Heather from my days at the Insatiable Booksluts blog, and I’ve kept up with her on Facebook since then, so when I saw that she started a new blog, I grabbed my towel and stuck out my thumb.  Heather writes about fantasy, sci-fi, zombies, Stephen King, and traditional literary fiction.  She does blog events, challenges, and themed months — most recently Vintage Sci-Fi Month and Zombruary.  Not all of her recommendations make it onto my TBR list (I prefer my zombies in unicorn form), but I don’t mind.  I just love reading her bookish thoughts.
  • Off Your Radar — I will pretty much follow sj wherever she goes.  That honestly sounded less creepy in my head, but she introduced me to one of my favorite fictional universes, and so I will gladly read anything she has to say about art of any form.  Off Your Radar is a music blog that reflects on a single album each week.  One person chooses and introduces the album, and the rest of the OYR crew shares their experiences/analyses of it.  So far, sj has contributed Wilt All Rosy, by Sayde Price; This City Isn’t Big Enough, by Apes of the State; and a “Mixtape” of her own creation for OYR’s 2018 holiday special (i.e. a Spotify playlist of her favorite under-appreciated cover songs).
  • Necromancy Never Pays — Jeanne named her blog after one of the most important lessons she’s learned from classic literature.  She has a whole list of books that illustrate this truth, from The Odyssey to contemporary fantasy/sci-fi.  Her blog covers mostly SFF, poetry, and contemporary fiction.  She likes books that not only reflect contemporary issues, but offer a call to action — and she’s willing to answer that call herself, as she illustrates in her recent post on human decency and social activism.
  • Sappho’s Torque — Author Angélique Jamail writes a very eclectic blog that covers music, poetry, fashion, Forbidden recipes, and — yes — books.  Her reviews are, as she describes them, more like memoirs or essays than typical recaps/analyses.  She does many series, including Witchy Weekends, Monday Earworms, Christmas Earworms, and Women Writers Wednesdays (for which I got to write a guest post back in 2015!).
  • Words for Worms — Katie loves reading so much that she ended up with Women’s Studies and History minors just because she kept taking electives that required lots of novel reading.  She’s been known to read through numerous social events, including wedding receptions and trade shows.  She listens to lots of romance audiobooks, but also covers the occasional penguin picture book (they’re great for every occasion and teachable moment!) and nightmarish mermaid novella (I’m feeling a slight hipster-ish pang as I see more people talking about Seanan McGuire.  I LOVE that she’s getting all the love, but it was fun feeling like I had her fantasy worlds to myself for a while — especially her Toby ‘verse).
  • Library Larkynn — Larkynn de la Fuerza is one of my closest offline friends, and a fellow writer of YA fantasy.  She blogs about her life as a children’s librarian and all the awesome kids’ books she gets to read as part of her job and her Masters classes.  For example, Larkynn participates in the Mock Newberry Awards each year.  She also spotlights children’s authors like Lauren Child (fun fact: did you know the BBC wanted to censor the TV version of Child’s Charlie and Lola stories just because they showed the protagonists eating not-so-healthy snacks?  I mean, really? :-/ ).
  • Caffeine Is My Muse — Sarah Maree is also one of my best offline friends, as well as a YA fantasy writer and book crafter (she creates amazing handcrafted notebooks out of paper, fabric, leather, and even barnwood).  On her blog, she shares snippets of her writing, including the hilariously disturbing novella, Positivity Camp (think Addams Family Values), as well as random Dungeons and Dragons adventures and — most recently — tales of her days as a ferret owner.

What are some of your favorite bookish (or even not-so-bookish) blogs?  Any fun plans for February 14th?  I, for one, will be hitting up my local Girl Scout cookie table at Kroger.  Thin Mints For The Win!

Thin Mint


Thin Mint clipart from

Posted in book blogging | 13 Comments

“Our survival honors ancestors more than any tradition”

The Deep Rivers Solomon#sorrynotsorry!  I can’t refrain from posting one more mer-story this month, because it’s so good.  At least it’s not selkies this time! ^_^;

Rivers Solomon, et al.  The Deep.  New York: Saga Press, 2019.

Rating:  5 out of 5 combs decorated with mysterious etchings, like tooth marks, lodged inside a human skull inside the body of a shark.

Recommended if you like:  Collaborative stories inspired by music.  #ownvoices speculative fiction that deals with trauma and injustice, but flows toward a hopeful future.  Highly sensitive protagonists who find strength in self-care.  Queer-focused world-building.

Reading playlist:

  • “The Deep,” by clipping.
  • “Birth of New Life,” by Drexciya
  • “Quiet,” by Ibibio Sound Machine
  • “Ascension,” by Slikback
  • “Release,” by Afro Celt Sound System

P.S.  I’ve created a Spotify playlist called “Sirens and Selkies,” which is inspired by my favorite mer-stories (I couldn’t find the Ocean Girl soundtrack there, but you can download it for free from the Internet Archive).  You can also find several other bookish playlists at my NeriSiren Spotify account.  Keep checking back as I add more lit-inspired tunes!

Read on…

Posted in fantasy, favorites, historical, LGBTQIA, mermaids, music, romantic | 2 Comments

The Great Selkie Post

The time has come, the Walrus said.

It’s time to dive deep into one of my favorite sub-genres of mer-story.  It’s time to re-cap twenty-three years of very scholarly research into this most fin-tastic feature of Celtic/Arctic/Greek mythology.

It’s time to talk about magic seals.

A cartooney gif image of a seal, filled with flashing pastel rainbow colors and patterns.

What are selkies (or silkies, or selchies, or Selch)?  Where did they come from?  How powerful are they?  What happens when selkies and humans mate?  This post will attempt to answer such questions according to the (mostly) Juv/YA books I’ve read in the past two decades.  Some of these books agree on certain basic details.  Others diverge along their own currents.

I really don’t know why I’m so fascinated by this particular branch of finfolk lore.  My first eleven years were spent obsessing over more Disney-style mer-beings — pencil-thin women with long, pastel-colored fish tails and dainty seashell tops.  And then, one day, I was sitting at the catalog computer in my local library, looking for books about seals.  Maybe I’d seen a cute image of a harp seal pup on TV?  Maybe I heard some interesting fact at school?  In any case, hidden among all the nature books, I saw the entry for Sylvia Peck’s Seal Child.

Cover of The Seal Child, by Sylvia Peck. A blue border surrounds a grey-ish scene. A girl with long brown hair is sitting on a hill overlooking a pond. A girl with long black hair is swimming in the pond, looking directly at the reader.

The title alone told me this was going to be a story about magic, and/or a Wild Child story like Ocean Girl or Karen Hesse’s The Music of Dolphins.  And when I saw that the seal girl’s name was just one letter off from my second-favorite Ocean Girl character, I was hooked.  So hooked that, after reading Sylvia Peck’s Afterword about her folklore influences, I vowed to spend the rest of my life reading every selkie story ever.

A Reassuring Note (or, an anti-warning): 

Despite what I suggested in previous posts, I have tried my best to avoid spoilers for the books I discuss (the old folktales are a different matter).  Slap me some fins and sail on to page 2!

P.S.  In case you’re curious, these are the books I discuss.  Click the links for my original reviews.

“Pastel Grunge” GIF from giphy.

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, selkies | 3 Comments

“It is the tide that pulls the seconds through my blood. It is the tide that threads the minutes through my bones.”

Part Three of my Selkie Series

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The cover of
Franny Billingsley.  The Folk Keeper.  New York: Atheneum, 1999.

Rating:  4.95 out of 5 amber beads tossed into the sea for smooth sailing.

Recommended if you like:  Journal-style novels.  Settings in which Christianity and Paganism coexist more or less respectfully.  Stories about girls who disguise themselves as boys to get by, only to discover their true Girl Power after all.

Reading playlist:

  • “La Soñadora” (The Dreamer), by Enya
  • “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps),” by David Bowie
  • “Reiki Healing Music with Waves,” by Oasis of Relaxation Meditation
  • “All Souls Night” by Loreena McKennitt
  • “Storm Front,” by Garry McDonald, et al. (from the Ocean Girl soundtrack)

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *

This was one of the first selkie stories I ever read, and it was the first (for me) that portrayed selkies in the traditional sense — shape-shifters who transform with the help of an animal pelt.  And it was the first (for me) to subvert the implications of classic selkie folktales (before I’d even read those tales!)  It feels like such a classic that I’m surprised it was published only 21 years ago.

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *
The Story

Four years ago, Corinna Stonewall disguised herself as a boy and began the dangerous work of a Folk Keeper.  Deep in the Cellar of Rhysbridge Home, she protects its residents from the vicious cave beings (definitely denizens of the Unseelie Court) who would wreak havoc (or at least play obnoxious pranks) if not regularly fed.  It is the only place she feels safe and comfortable.

Then, a visitor arrives and forces Corinna out of hiding.  He seems to know all of her secrets, and she has little choice but to accept his summons to work at Marblehaugh Park, on an island where the Folk are even more dangerous.  Over the next year, Corinna discovers she has more secrets and powers than even she knew.  Why does her hair grow so fast, though she cuts it every night?  Why does she hear the sea singing?  Is there any place for her in the world outside the Cellar?

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *

First:  Corinna is one of the most self-assured and hardcore characters I’ve ever met.  She knows exactly how much she’s worth and wreaks havoc on anyone who crosses her.  Some might call her petty at best, or bloodthirsty at worst, but she would say she has Conviction.  At the same time, she learns to respect her vulnerable, sentimental moments, realizing they do not detract from her strength or resilience.

Second:  I love the constant shift between past and present tense.  It reflects the theme of time, and how uniquely Corinna experiences it.  The very act of writing the Folk Record — of narrating the present and the recent past — is essential to her understanding of the world, and her ability to make decisions about the future.  In other words:  the journal format is part of the story itself, and not just a stylistic choice.

Third:  I love Corinna’s emphasis on non-visual descriptions of the undersea.  So many mer-stories talk about the colors and shapes of the ocean and its beings, but that’s a very visually-abled perspective.  Much of the sea is dark, and even where it’s not, not all creatures experience it with 20/20 vision.  Some undersea beings have to use other, more tactile and audial senses, to “map” their world.

Fourth:  The romance between Corinna and Finian is totally aww-some.  The fact that she’s disguised as a boy when he starts falling for her makes me smile, of course, but I also just love how sentimental and open he is with his emotions.  At one point, he openly admits to having “wept enough tears to call dozens” of selkies to rescue “Corin” when he was in danger.

Finally:  I’m intrigued by the idea that you can tell a selkie from an ordinary seal by their eyes.  In this world, selkies have human eyes.  In all the other stories I’ve read so far, selkies look just like ordinary seals.  Granted, the image of a seal with human eyes is a bit Uncanny Valley, so I can see why most authors would avoid it… 0_O

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *

First:  The funny thing about diary-style novels is that they have to find a balance between sounding natural (i.e. a protagonist who’s writing only for herself wouldn’t fill her entries with unnecessary exposition) and giving readers enough information to understand a setting that’s foreign to them.  In other words, Corinna may know what selkies are, and why Folk Keepers are needed in this world, but the reader doesn’t.  For the most part, the author keeps a comfortable balance.

There’s only one moment when she forgets the reader’s lack of knowledge.  Corinna is describing her search for graveyard mold, which is said to protect Folk Keepers against the creatures.  She explains that the mold needs to come from a recently-dug grave, but immediately passes up the most recent grave in the cemetery.  But then comes back to it a few entries later.  Maybe she passed it up initially because it didn’t have enough mold?  Maybe the charm works best if you gather three graves’ worth of mold?  Explain, book!  Explain!

Second:  The romance between Corinna and Finian, while totally aww-some, left this modern reader a biiiit squicked out when I noticed a few details that pre-teen Neri missed.  Yes, I get that social norms were different back in…whatever century this story takes place…but still.  Hit me up in the comments if you want more spoilery details.

Third:  Dog-lovers and sensitive souls be warned.  There’s a very sad scene involving the brutal death of a dog.

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *

Fellow selkie scholars should totally consider this recommended reading.  The Folk Keeper is a lovely introduction not only to selkie lore, but to ancient Celtic beliefs overall.  Each plot point is attached to a Holy Day on either the Christian calendar or the Celtic Wheel of the Year.  These beliefs are deeply ingrained in the setting, and there seems to be no conflict between Christian and Pagan devotion.  No one on the island thinks twice about honoring both saints and selkies.

As for how this and other Juv/YA novels twist and support traditional selkie lore, see my next post:  the Great Selkie Review!  

A gif image of a seal on a patch of ice in the middle of the sea. The seal turns its head to look behind, and a second seal pokes its head up from behind the ice. The word "Soon" is written in large white letters at the top left of the image.

“Seal Waiting” gif from giphy.

Posted in fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, nostalgic, re-reads, romantic, selkies | 3 Comments

“But once in a rare while they come late to the changing.”

Part Two of my Selkie Series

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The cover of "The Turning," by Emily Whitman. A naked boy kneels at the edge of the sea, looking up at the moon. His shadow/reflection is an upside-down seal.
Emily Whitman.  The Turning.  New York: Greenwillow Books, 2018.

Rating:  4.9 out of 5 gold doubloons that may or may not be real.

Recommended if you like:  Wilderness survival stories — Wild Child stories, in particular.  Stories about the magic of reading and storytelling.  Stories that affirm readers who are waiting to reach some milestone or develop some skill that everyone around them seems to have figured out naturally.

Recommended playlist:

  • “The Silkie,” by William Jackson
  • “Aran Boat Song,” by William Jackson, et al.
  • “Pilnatis” (Full Moon), by Jurga
  • “Island Mystery,” by Garry McDonald, et al. (from the Ocean Girl soundtrack)
  • “Persistence of Memory,” by Afro Celt Sound Systems

Also:  The audiobook is wonderful!  The narrator, Kirby Heyborne, infuses every bit of dialogue with all the feelings.  Whether a character is reciting a ritual chant or screaming into the night, Heyborne lets us hear exactly how devoted or desperate they are.  My only wish is that he could’ve sung the songs instead of speaking them, but Emily Whitman provides a link on her website to this gorgeous performance of “The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry.”

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *
The Story

Aran is the only selkie in his clan who was born “in longlimbs” — without a sealskin.  The others take care of him as much as they can, but as he gets older, they start to see him as a burden and a threat.  What would humans think if they saw a boy swimming with seals in the middle of the sea?

So Aran’s mother leaves him on an island, in the care of a trusted human, while she swims north in search of the answer to Aran’s most persistent question:  when will he get his sealskin?  In the meantime, Aran tries to follow his mother’s warnings and stay hidden, but there are things and people that call to him, and secrets he must learn if he is ever to return to his clan.

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *

First, this book gets major points every time Maggie calls Aran “ocean boy,” setting off my Ocean Girl Radar.

My "Ocean Girl Radar" logo: a picture of Neri, looking up at the viewer from the water, with a radar target in the foreground and the words "Ocean Girl Radar TM" at the top.

Now, before you argue that that’s a stretch, there’s a character in Season 3 whom the villains call “ocean boy,” so it totally counts.  Plus, there’s the whole lives-on-an-island/raised-by-sea-creatures business, so there you go!

Second, as disturbingly enthralled as I am by Seanan McGuire’s selkie creation story, I still love the positive ones that portray selkies as (mostly) gentle beings better.  I love Emily Whitman’s idea of selkies being born from music and moonlight.  And I love the hint that there are selkies whose seal forms can be other species besides grey and harbor seals.

Third, I love the commentary on bias in stories, depending on who’s telling them — for example, how different would the Seal Wife story sound if it was told by the selkie woman vs. the human man?  And what about the half-selkie children who may or may not have been born with sealskins?  What happens to them?

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *

As in every fairy tale, there are moments when I need to don my suspension-of-disbelief goggles.  Sometimes they work (I’m willing to believe Elsa’s parents could separate their two daughters so successfully, within the same castle, for years, that the younger one would never notice even a trace of the older one’s nearly-uncontrollable ice powers), while sometimes they turn into skepticals instead (The little mermaid is supposed to feel unbearable pain whenever she’s on her feet, but no one ever notices her limping or wincing or anything?).

A GIF of Dipper and Mabel from Gravity Falls. Mabel is miming a pair of eyeglasses, saying "Allow me to put on my skepticals." Dipper gets angry and walks away. Mabel narrows her eyes and repeats, "Skepticals."

In this case, I found myself wearing a thin pair of skepticals when I read that Aran learned to read well enough, from scratch, in just a few weeks, to search through dozens of old texts for selkie stories.  He’s not like Morgan in Seven Tears at High Tide, who absorbs all of his human skills and information from an omniscient and omnipotent Sea.  There’s no mention of selkies having special powers on land, so how did Aran go from picture books to scholarly tomes in less than a month?

Also, just how far out does Aran’s clan live, and would human fishermen really never notice a human-looking boy riding around on the back of a seal for eleven years?

And also, the Moon’s kind of a jerk, amirite?  Like, how much does this kid have to go through to prove himself worthy?

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *

As I said, the few puzzling moments only required a thin pair of disbelief goggles.  For the most part, the fairy tale logic worked fine.  The story is full of Magic and Mystery, and yet encourages human readers to believe in their own ordinary powers.  Whitman combines existing selkie lore — re-telling known stories from Aran and Nellie’s point of view — with her own invented folk tales to create a unique mythology.

Also, half of me totally ships my imagined grown-up versions of Aran and Nellie.  I think they could join the growing list of selkie-human relationships that don’t involve theft or coercion or tragic endings.

Finally, you should absolutely check out Emily Whitman’s website if you want to learn more about the kind of research she did for The Turning and other stories.  She provides links to videos on seal anatomy and Pacific Northwest habitats, quizzes and lesson plans on ocean health, and various versions of mermaid and seal-folk tales from North America and the British Isles.

“Skepticals” gif from gfycat.

Posted in fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, Ocean Girl radar, selkies | 4 Comments

“You’re here to put an end to us, and a Selkie without a skin is no concern of Faerie’s.”

Ahoy, Bookwyrms! 

I’ve decided to start the new decade with a four-part series looking back at one of my favorite literary/folkloric subjects of all time:


The first three posts will be reviews — two new reads and a nostalgic favorite, all of which focus on the ultimate question:  What is a true selkie?  Is it the skin?  Or is it something else?  Where does a skinless selkie fit in Faerie?  What relationship can a skinless selkie have with the sea?

Finally, I will reflect on (mostly) Juv/YA selkie lore as a whole, or at least the sub-set of it that I’ve read in the past 23 years.  What is the balance of human and beast in a selkie?  Are they primarily humans who sometimes change into seals, or vice versa?  What do they actually need in order to transform?  What (if anything) can a non-selkie do with a stolen skin?  Where do selkies fit in among the rest of Faerie?  When do you capitalize “Selkie” and when do you leave it lower-case?

Open currents and sweet tides, my fellow seafarers!  Today’s post covers October Daye #13: The Unkindest Tide, by Seanan McGuire.

Anchors aweigh!

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The cover of "The Unkindest Tide," by Seanan McGuire. A dark-haired woman, wearing a leather jacket, stands at a ship's railing, looking out at the sea.

Seanan McGuire.  The Unkindest Tide.  New York: DAW Books, 2019.

Rating:  4.88 out of 5 green eyes, clear as driftglass, waiting to look out on the world once more.

Recommended if you like:  Feeling fist-pumpy and frustrated at the same time. Those moments when a character points out exactly what you’ve been shouting at these books for years, only in more eloquent terms.  Ambiguous endings.

Recommended reading playlist:

  • “Peacock Flounder,” by Reef Project
  • “Aš esu tiktai jei tu esi” (I am only if you are), by Jurga
  • “Electrical Storm,” by U2
  • “Mississippi,” by Paula Cole
  • “The Deep,” by Garry McDonald, et al. (from the Ocean Girl soundtrack)

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Like the previous Toby review, this one is going to be split into two pages:  Page 1 is Safe Waters (at least, if you’ve read all the previous Toby books), while page 2 (and, possibly, the Comments section) is SPOILER Territory.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

These are mer-stories, my sea-scaled bookwyrms, and that means…the long-awaited return of the Tide Metaphor!  I haven’t used it since my first Toby review, back in 2012.  I first used it to describe my experience reading Undine, by Penni Russon, a story that alternately flowed toward me, calling and compelling me forward…

A scene from Disney's Moana, in which Moana guides her people on a new voyage across the ocean.

…and then ebbed away from me, losing me with unclear (or nonexistent) explanations or eyeroll-worthy characterizations or confusing plot points.

But anyhoo, back to The Unkindest Tide!

The non-spoilery story, in a seashell

The Luidaeg shows up on Toby’s doorstep one March evening and announces that It’s Time.  The Selkie race has lived long enough, using the skins of her slain seal children — the Roane — to live on the edges of Faerie.  Selkies shift between human and magic in a way that never sat comfortably with the rest of Faerie, because sealskins can be stolen and re-used by anyone (at least theoretically).  Sealskins can expose Faerie to the human world.  But they were the only way the sea witch could think of to honor her murdered children, at the time.

Now she has a better way.  Toby has the power to shift the balance of magic in a person’s blood.  And that power is strong enough now to fulfill the Luidaeg’s ultimate goal:  to end the Selkie race and bring back the Roane.

The trouble is: there are only so many sealskins to go around.  They have always been passed down from parent to child, and those with multiple children have had to make difficult choices.  What would desperate parents do to ensure that more of their children could become Roane?  What will become of the skinless Selkies left behind?

And what will this mean for the balance of Faerie?  What will it mean for Toby’s own daughter, whose new skin is the only thing keeping her alive?

Also, there’s some merrow political intrigues and Dianda gets arrested and Toby has to go on a brief side quest.

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *

As my rating shows, The Unkindest Tide mostly flowed, decorating my shore with gifts of:

  • Memorable-enough-to-cosplay characters (I’m totally proud of my coffee mer-ista persona from several posts ago, but my alternate Halloween costume idea was Captain Pete, the no-nonsense merrow master of the Duchy of Ships) and a setting so mer-mazing that Liz Lemon’s voice played on loop in my head, whispering:  I want to go to there.
    A GIF of Tina Fey, in 30 Rock, saying "I want to go to there."
  • Deep commentary and enchanting descriptions and insightful dialogue that made me shout “Amen!” (particularly re: how much the present-day Selkies should have to pay for their ancestors’ crime — and, more specifically, how much Liz Ryan should be blamed for her individual choice to take a sealskin);
  • Wonderful world-building about the nature and purpose of the Roane, and the creation of the Selkies, and the nature of sealskins (the only problem is when the world-building turns into ret-conning, but that’s a point for page 2).
  • A skillful use of the prophecy trope that balances “This Was All Destined” with “The Future is Malleable and Choices can Change Things.”

*  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *

But there were a few moments when the Narrative Ocean lost me, when the story left me stranded on shore, watching some confusing plot point or incomplete explanation or illogical ret-con or sort-of(?) anti-climax(?) sail off without me.

Another scene from Disney's Moana, in which she wakes up, covered in sand, with disheveled hair, on Maui's island.

Still, this was one of those books I liked so much I bought it in digital AND tree-book form (hardcover, even!).  It raises questions — some intriguing and some annoying — and that’s much of the fun of the Toby books.  It has all those lovely Toby one-liners (not to be confused with the groan-worthy Toby one-liners) about folk music and ghosts, and then there’s this really lovely Cassandra line that sums up the whole book and makes me feel more optimistic about Current Events and personal situations:

“Nothing can be broken forever and stay stable.”  (pg. 263)

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

So! For those of you who haven’t read The Unkindest Tide and don’t want to enter SPOILER Territory, that was the gist of my review.  If you don’t mind knowing more, or if you’ve already read the book, sail on to page 2.

Posted in fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, LGBTQIA, mermaids, October Daye, selkies | 11 Comments

A very 90s ghost story…about the magic of literacy!

Holy snapdragons, Bookwyrms!

It’s my 200th post!!!

In honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to rrrrrrewind to one of my other favorite 90s kids’ shows, which inspired me to become a lifelong literacy activist.  Through the magic of YouTube, I’ve been able to re-watch all three seasons of…

Ghostwriter logo: bright blue background with green text, surrounded by headshots of Lenni, Tina, Gaby, Alex, Jamal, and Rob


In 1992, Sesame Workshop released a totally happenin’ show about a group of pre-teens who run around Brooklyn, solving mysteries with the help of their secret supernatural friend, whom they brilliantly  name Ghostwriter.  This lone headlight with floating eyebrows can only communicate by taking nearby letters and re-arranging them into words (using funky 90s Word Art!).

Er, except when he hacks into computers; then he can write whatever he wants.  He flies around the city, looking for words that are near missing people, or skims through long documents to find specific words.

He’s basically proto-Google.

Some of the mysteries focus on social issues like safe neighborhoods, chemical pollution, and homeless veterans.  Others are about less weighty topics like comic books and music videos.  And still others…are about leather-jacket-wearing monsters made of chewed-up purple bubble gum?

Close-up of the Slime Monster's wrinkly purple head, with bulging, bloodshot eyes.
You’re welcome for the nightmares…

But the underlying theme in every story arc is the importance of written communication.  Any time a character has trouble expressing themselves, the others suggest writing his or her feelings down.  Often, the team has to figure out how to tailor their words for a specific audience, or deal with time and space constraints (like, literally, there’s a story arc involving time travel).

When Tina gets a job responding to fan mail for her favorite movie star, she learns to write the way the actress speaks, so fans won’t realize their beloved action hero uses a ghostwriter (see what I did there?) to answer their heartfelt letters.  And when Ghostwriter takes a case that involves traveling back and forth in time, he can only carry short messages through the wormhole, because the trips are so exhausting.  So, the mystery team has to use as few words as possible while still getting a clear message across.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but these stories must have inspired me when I was teaching college-level Rhetoric and Composition.  Our RhetComp classes focused on multiple types of literacy — not only academic, but news literacy, civic literacy, and workplace literacy.  You don’t write a Newsweek op-ed the same way you write a standard college essay.  In a college essay, you have to make your point right away and follow it up with reasons and details.  In a personal op-ed, you can bury the lead to build suspense, or to establish common ground before making a controversial point.

If I was teaching today, I might talk about how activists condense their messages into catchy tweets, or how teen magazines use abbreviations (OG, awk, BTS, OOTD) to make their readers feel like they’re part of a club with a secret language that other generations won’t understand.

Ghostwriter also speaks to me as someone who’s worked in libraries and watched kids get as excited as Hector when he receives his first library card.  And of course I get all the nostalgic feels when Gabby teaches him how to use a card catalog!

Side note:  Yes, the 90stalgia is strong with this one.  Watching these kids get so impressed by Jamal’s new modem and puzzle over a hacker’s ability to get into a computer system from outside the building is hiLARious.

Close-up of Jamal's computer screen, on which he's written: "Hello, computer. My name is Jamal. Ready for one dynamite dude?"
To be fair, this was how I greeted my first laptop.

And, yes, we can totally talk about how easy it is for these twelve-year-olds to convince the local police to follow Ghostwriter’s leads without asking any uncomfortable questions.  Heh heh, I don’t know where you kids got your information, but let’s all go to the abandoned parking garage to catch the painfully over-the-top villain!

Also, do big-time music execs often go head-hunting at middle school talent shows?  Er… sorry, Hanson 😉  And was eighth-grade prom really a thing?

But can we also talk about how great this 90s show is at portraying a diverse cast without making any of the characters feel like tokens or stereotypes?  Everyone on the team feels like an individual with unique interests and styles.  Their cultures and ethnicities are important to them, but they’re allowed to have many more facets than that.

Or how the Very Special Drug Episode features a guy who nicknames all his basketball plays after fairy tales and nursery rhymes?

Or how this show was apparently my first introduction to David Bowie!?!?!  In Part One of “Don’t Stop the Music,” Lenni’s friend Sally helps her through a case of songwriter’s block by suggesting she use Bowie’s technique of writing all the ideas that pop into his head, cutting them up, and rearranging them into funky lyrics!

Overall, Ghostwriter is an empowering show about the magic of words, and it’s just as fun to watch today as it was back then.

You can find most of the episodes in IBeGhostwriter’s YouTube account (just an fyi: the Slime Monster episodes are numbered wrong, and you’ll have to search for episodes 1 and 2 elsewhere).

I’ll leave you with episode 2 of the Slime Monster arc (ignore the title), just so you can see the hilariously creepy literacy PSA at the start.  I also highly recommend this very 90s Katie Couric special that appeared before Season 3 (again, ignore the title). 😀

Happy New Year!

Posted in 90stalgia, fantasy, literacy, nostalgic, writing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Neri’s Krupni-cake: a yuletide Out of the Books Experience

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule, and more Seasons Greetings, Bookwyrms!

Back in October, I listed some of my favorite fictional treats, including a spiritually spiked log cake that inspired me to make my own Lithuanian Christmas version.  A quick Google search led me to this recipe for a Krupnikas pound cake.  I pulled out a bundt pan (to make a wreath instead of a log), added a few extra decorative ingredients, and va!

krupni cake4
krupni cake2

It’s supposed to look like a birch wreath.  I used ground cloves for the stripes, candy-coated almonds for the leaves, and mini marshmallows topped with espresso beans for forest mushrooms.  It…didn’t exactly make me see the Holy Trinity at first bite, but it was a respectable attempt.

Have any of your favorite stories inspired you to try a new recipe?  What are some of your favorite Christmas desserts?

Posted in bookish cooking, Lithuania, out-of-the-books experience | Tagged | 4 Comments

Ten years under hill, over dale, beneath the waves, on faery trails…

Happy December, Bookwyrms and La-La Landers everywhere!

Ariel Christmas tree

Welcome to the final Year-End Review of the 2010s!  Ten years ago, 24-year-old Neri decided to ignore the call of Srs Adulthood and instead doubled down on her obsession with stories for and about the wee folk.  Rather than enjoying my mermaids and unicorns and changelings and California twin alien adventures in private, I decided to flaunt my inner child on the Internet.  Like the rogue god Elihu in Bruce Coville’s The Last Hunt, I decided to bring my dream world into concrete existence.

And thus, on October 14th of 2010, La-La Land was born and I began writing “postcards” inviting bookwyrms of all ages to join me in my imaginary travels.  Ten years later, the madness has neither settled nor subsided — no, I’ve quadrupled down on my head-in-the-clouds act, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality through Out-of-Book Experiences (a.k.a. literary travels) and fantasy cosplaying (particularly of the #reallifemermaid variety).


This year, rather than summing up my favorite books of 2019 (I started this blogging season late, gave only two books 4-or-more stars, and prefer to give the books I haven’t yet reviewed their own posts in 2020), I’m going to review La-La Land itself!

Read on…


Little Mermaid Christmas clipart from Disneyclips

Posted in adaptations, book blogging, fantasy, favorites, folklore/fairy tales, LGBTQIA, literary travel, Lithuania, magical realism, mermaids, meta, movies, out-of-the-books experience, selkies, year-end review | 2 Comments