Review: Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

T&B Cover High Res

Tangleweed and Brine

Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

Little Island Books (2017)


Old stories new, you’ll venture where you will

Tangleweed and Brine is a collection of 13 witchy fairytale retellings.  The book is divided in two, each element of the title being one half. The Tangleweed stories are earthier and filled with ash, while the Brine tales are infused with water. The elemental nature of the stories reflects the way that fairy tales connect to the very core of our being. This collection is no exception, filled as it is with darkness and light, pain and pleasure, fear and longing. Dark, beguiling and feminist, these are haunting tales that will linger in the reader’s memory, stories that reward multiple readings. Sullivan focuses on the female experience in her tales – she allows the reader enter deeply into the minds of her characters, and does not deny the darker elements of these tales.


Ash Pale illustration by Karen Vaughan

This is illustrator Karen Vaughan’s first book, and she is definitely one to watch. Her intricate pen-and-ink illustrations catch the tone of the tales perfectly, and add an extra layer of richness to the book. Her work shows the influence of Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley, in a way which ties the collection into the long tradition of illustrated fairytale books, yet she has a style of her own. I particularly like how her illustrations, like the tales themselves, make room for other types of bodies in the fairy tales. This book is not filled with dainty perfect princesses, but with women who would be considered too tall, too fat, too small or altogether too much for such tales.

She wasn’t soft threads woven into silk, but thick rough cables pulsing like muscles on the chests of fishermen. Functional.

There is a strong focus on bodily experience, on being a woman. On the body as functional and a source of power, on the body as a trap.

You like your arms that make things, grow things, mend.

Beauty and a womb. That’s all you are.

There are no quick fixes, fairy godmothers or happily-ever-afters in these stories. The endings are often ambiguous and unsettling. The heroines must rely on their own courage and resources. Some tales will resonate with readers, some will empower them, some will linger on long after reading.

With its poetic and beguiling prose, it is easy to become tangled up in Tangleweed and Brine. This is a book to savour and to treasure, beautifully written, illustrated and designed.


Guest Post: Tangleweed and Brine Blog Tour

T&B Cover High Res.jpg

I was utterly enchanted by Tangleweed and Brine, a collection of feminist fairytale retellings by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan. The stories are dark and poetic, and focus strongly on the female experience, and the stunning illustrations tie the book into the rich tradition of lavish fairytale gift books recalling the work of Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke.  I will be posting a full review of the book next week.

I am delighted to have a piece from the author and illustrator about the Rapunzel retelling to share with you.

Tangleweed and Brine is published by Little Island Books and will be launched tonight in Easons on O’Connell St at 6pm.

Come Live Here and Be Loved


I wrote this story while thinking a lot about growth and earth and babies. Many of my friends had recently become mothers, and I admired them hugely but did not feel ready to take that step myself. It seemed so huge. To grow a life inside you. It still does. I’m nervous meeting new people at the best of times. In Ireland, our abortion laws are extremely restrictive, and many women are forced to carry babies, who will not survive outside the womb, to term. Carrying a wanted, loved baby inside you, but knowing you will never get to raise them, I can’t imagine how it breaks the heart.

Reading the stories from brave women who have shared their experience to advocate for others, combined with the physical and emotional miracle of seeing people I knew and loved make brand new people, was the seed that this Rapunzel grew from.

When I saw this illustration for the first time, it was a sketch. And I gasped. The witches mouth was a little more open and Karen had put the double row of teeth in. The cultivated wilderness of her magic garden, the husband helpfully gathering Campanula Rapunculus while the women sort things out amongst themselves, it was amazing to see what Karen saw when she read Come Live Here and Be Loved, and it was so similar to what I had envisioned myself, filtered through Karen’s aesthetic, that reminds me of Harry Clarke or Aubrey Beardsley, but is also all her own.

The fat blooming flowers surrounding the witch and the woman reflect the possibility. New life is growing, but not human life. The woman’s face is so tired and resigned. The witch’s is tender and inquiring. They both want the same thing, in the end.

Come Here 3


This story was a joy to illustrate. The image came out almost fully formed on the first attempt which hardly ever happens. I wanted to show that moment of understanding and agreement between the two women while the husband busies himself with the task of harvesting the flowers.

There was a minor change made at the end that I think made a huge difference. In the rough sketch, the witch’s mouth was open and smiling, showing her double row of teeth. The more I looked at it, the more I felt it gave her a predatory look which was out of step with the character in the book. She seemed almost joyful in the face of the woman’s misfortune which didn’t feel quite right. The witch is very much of the natural world which isn’t cruel for pleasure or any other vindictive reason, it just is. There’s happiness in her face for sure, but it’s tempered with compassion for the woman who has to give up on her dream of bearing her own child.

Review: Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce


After a Fenris attack in her youth that left her physically and emotionally scarred, Scarlett is determined to hunt down and kill as many of these werewolves as possible. Hunting has become her life, and by extension her sister Rosie’s, who feels indebted to Scarlett for saving her life. With an increasing Fenris presence in their town, the two sisters and their woodsman friend Silas must up their game, before more young women lose their lives to these beasts.

Jackson Pearce’s Red Riding Hood retelling is an exciting read and a clever twist on the original tale. The plot is fast paced and clever, with some great twists. One of the best things about it is the strength of the heroines. Pearce has created a feminist fairytale, her protagonists don’t need any knights in shining armour to save them. They can, and do, fight their own battles.

“I am confident, I am capable, and I will not wait to be rescued by a woodsman or a hunter.”

Pearce’s retelling has a touch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer about it, and her heroines are admirable not only for their strength, but also their wit and their vulnerabilities. Scarlett and Rosie are strong, but Pearce also shows their struggles. Scarlett carries the trauma of the attack in which they lost their grandmother and she was permanently scarred and disfigured. For the most part, her scars have become part of her but Pearce also shows how she can be self-conscious about them. Rosie yearns for a life that doesn’t revolve around hunting, and feels a growing attraction towards Silas. I loved how Pearce wrote the sisters, and how strong their connection was. However, she also shows how this relationship must shift and change as they grow.

Sisters Red is the first book in Jackson Pearce’s Fairytale Retellings series. I read Sweetly (based on Hansel and Gretel) a few years ago, and I loved it. I am looking forward to reading Fathomless (The Little Mermaid) and Cold Spell (The Snow Queen) very soon!


Top Ten Tuesday: Fairytale Retellings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish, combining two of my favourite things – books and lists. I love fairytales so this week’s theme was right up my street – Top Ten Fairytale Retelling I’ve Read/Want To Read.


1) The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

This is one of my all-time favourite books. It is a beautifully written book that expands the original fairytale and takes the reader on an emotional journey.It is the first of The Books of Bayern series, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

2) The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

I read this book of short stories for my Twentieth Century Women’s Fiction class in college, and it blew me away. Carter tackles a range of fairytales in her dark and sensual retellings. I wrote an essay on her interpretations of Beauty and the Beast.

3) Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

A twist on the Cinderella story, this is the tale of a girl burdened by the curse of obedience. Ella must always do what she is told, no matter the consequences for her or those she loves. This book was made into an excellent film starring Anne Hathaway but the book is well worth a read.

4) The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

Gaiman’s storytelling skills combined with Riddell’s intricate ink illustrations create an evocative retelling of Sleeping Beauty with an excellent twist. A beautifully produced book, and a truly magical retelling.

5) Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

Technically this is a retelling of a ballad and not a fairytale, but it was too good not to include on this list. It is based on Scarborough Fair, the heroine must complete the three seemingly impossible tasks mentioned in the song such as finding an acre of land between the seawater and the seashore. Dark, magical and compelling.

6) Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

A retelling of Hansel and Gretel, with references to Red Riding Hood as well. I was completely drawn into the world Pearce created – a memorable and chilling tale with a lot of mystery.

7) North Child by Edith Pattou (published as East in the US)

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

A retelling of ‘East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon’, a Nordic fairytale. I vividly remember borrowing this from my local library and not being able to put it down!

8) Cloaked by Alex Flinn

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

A mash up of fairytale references, brought into the modern day. I really enjoyed this, and want to read more of Alex Flinn’s retellings.

Want To Read

1) A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

2) Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

2) Wicked by Gregory Maguire

3) Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

4) Beastly by Alex Finn

Please leave your recommendations in the comments, or a link to your TTT. I am always eager to find new fairytale retellings!

Happy International Children’s Book Day!

ICBD poster

International Children’s Book Day is happening on the 2nd of April and will be hosted by IBBY Ireland this year. The 2nd of April was Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday and so the event often centres around his work. A number of Irish children’s authors have collaborated on a rewriting of Andersen’s tales entitled Shoes, Ducks and Maids of the Sea – Retellings of Hans Christian Andersen. This collection will feature stories by Sarah Webb, Oisin McGann, Siobhán Parkinson, Paula Leyden, Deirdre Sullivan, Claire Hennessy, Sheena Wilkinson, Anna Carey and many more!  This e-book and IBBY Ireland’s new website will be launched at an event tonight.

As well as arranging a number of events during the day for children and adults, the host country is also responsible for the poster for the day and for selecting an author to write a message to the international community of child readers. The poster for 2014 was designed by the current Laureate na nÓg Niamh Sharkey and is very colourful, featuring one of her loveable monster characters. Former Laureate na nÓg Siobhán Parkinson wrote the letter, which can be read here.

“Without the writer the story would never be born; but without all the thousands of readers around the world, the story would not get to live all the lives it can live.”

One of the display cases in Trinity College Dublin

One of the display cases in Trinity College Dublin

To coincide with this event, the TCD Library display cases are showcasing a variety of collections of Hans Christian Andersen tales from the collection. There are many beautiful books on display, and I’ve just picked out a couple to show here.

The first is W Heath Robinson’s illustrations for a collection of Andersen’s tales published in 1913. I loved the two pages shown in the display, the detail is amazing and the contrast between the full colour image and the black and white illustration show the range of his style. The colour image illustrates The Snow Queen and the sumptuous colours and rich fabrics reflect her wealth. The black and white image is much starker, but the night sky is incredible and the skilful drawing is seen more clearly here.

W Heath Robinson illustrations, 1913

W Heath Robinson illustrations, 1913

One of my favourite illustrators P.J. Lynch is represented with his illustrations for The Snow Queen. The pages shown depict Gerda travelling to the Snow Queen’s kingdom, and the depiction of the Northern Lights is stunning. It captures the adventurous spirit of the story really well, and the sky really seems to shimmer. It is a mesmerising image!

The Snow Queen illustrated by PJ Lynch 1993

The Snow Queen illustrated by PJ Lynch 1993

Check out the blog post about International Children’s Book Day and the TCD display on the library blog here.

My personal favourite Andersen tale is The Snow Queen. The illustrations for this tale are usually fantastic, capturing the majestic figure of the queen herself and the stunning landscapes crossed during Gerda’s epic quest. The reason why I love this story is how empowered the heroine is. Gerda goes on an incredible journey to save her best friend Kai from the cruel Snow Queen and is one of the bravest and most active fairytale heroines out there. Andersen wrote a number of very well-known tales, including The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid (the original tale has a shockingly tragic ending). The fact that International Children’s Book Day, celebrated by 76 countries, is held on his birthday is a testament to the enduring appeal of his work.

I wish you all a very happy International Children’s Book Day, wherever you are and whatever you’re reading!

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Doesn’t this book have an incredible title? It’s been a while since I’ve had a book review on the blog, and I’m delighted to bring that back with Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which is one of the best books I have read this year. I adore fairytales, and this is a wonderful magical adventure that I just couldn’t get enough of.


When the Green Wind arrives at twelve-year-old September’s window, upon a flying leopard, she leaves her humdrum life behind for the magic of Fairyland.September tumbles into an enchanting adventure full of strange creatures, secrets and danger. Accompanied by a Wyverary (a dragon-like creature born of a wyvern and a library) September begins a daring quest to save Fairyland from the Marquess’ tyrannical rule. She must find her courage, and make difficult choices to complete her quest.

Valente weaves a spellbinding fairytale, and this is now one of my favourite books. The narration is wonderfully witty and draws on many fairytale traditions. The writing is full of fantastical descriptions and pieces of wisdom such as ‘For the wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes.’ The book is beautifully illustrated with chapter headings by Ana Juan that echo the magical atmosphere of the book.


September is a brave heroine who grows as she makes her journey. It is great to see a female ‘knight’ take control and try to save her new world. The magical beings she meets along the way – from witches to alchemists, enchanted objects to fairies – are highly imaginative. I was enthralled by the fascinating world and its creatures, the strong protagonist and the action-packed plot. I cannot wait to read the next two books in the series. Highly recommended for any teen or adult reader who enjoys an enchanting fairytale.

Originally reviewed for LoveReading. Check out a whole range of reviews of the book here by children, teens and adults.