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177: Dive into Fairy Tale Retellings with These Unabridged Recommendations

In this Unabridged episode, we discuss a favorite genre that is also a category on the Unabridged Reading Challenge 2021 list -- fairy tale retellings. We recommend a few favorites including Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and Erin A. Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows.

Bookish Check-in

Ashley - Chanel Cleeton’s The Last Train to Key West (Amazon |

Jen - Jenny Lawson’s Broken (In the Best Possible Way) (thanks to

Sara - Erin French’s Finding Freedom (Amazon |

Our Recommendations

Ashley - Marissa Meyer’s Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles series) (Amazon | - The series includes Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter, as well as some shorter stories.

Jen - Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely (The Cursebreakers series)

Sara - Erin A. Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows (Amazon |

Mentioned in Episode

Fredrik Backman's Anxious People (Amazon |

Fairy Tales including Beauty and the Beast, The Twelve Dancing Sisters, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood

Give Me One - Household Chore You Don't Mind Doing

Listen in to hear our picks, and share your pick on social media @unabridgedpod!

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Bookish Check-in

Book cover of The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

Ashley said, "So, I have just barely started this one. But this is Chanel Cleeton's The Last Train to Key West. My sister loaned this to me, and said she really enjoyed it. I also chose it—we're recording just a little bit ahead of schedule—and I chose it for my April Uncorked Reading Challenge selection—the topic for this month is a book that takes place largely on a train. So I'm at the tail end of the month here, but I'm going to slide that one at the end of April. Like I said, I've been wanting to read it, but I didn't realize it is historical fiction: it takes place in 1935, and it's during a huge hurricane in the Caribbean. I'm really fascinated by just the very beginning, I only have Helen's perspective in the beginning: she's the narrator of the first part, and it's clear that she is afraid of her husband. He seems to be abusive. There's this really ominous feeling of dread in the opening part, and we also find out quickly that she is pregnant. He's a fisherman, and a lot of her well being is determined by the sea and by how his day goes based on what happens out on the boat, so there's a sense of desperation, and also of loneliness. In the opening part she has these visions of him dying out on on the boat, so it's, you know, a feeling of her feeling oppressed by that relationship and unsure of what's going to happen. So we see that in the opening scene. There's also a storm coming, and again, I only know about the hurricane because of the premise of the book, but it seems like this storm is coming, but everyone thinks it's fine. So you kind of see that happening in the beginning.

"There are two other women as well:Marta Perez is in this, and also Elizabeth Preston. They are each in three very different circumstances. Each woman's life is very unique from each other, but all of them are connected by this unexpected event and by this hurricane that's coming. I always love that when there are multiple perspectives and different lives that get connected by an event. It makes me think—I talked about Fredrick Backman's Anxious People recently, and that's one where everything is connected, because these people are all together at an apartment showing, and there is a hostage situation. So it's that same kind of thing—they have very different lives, but this event happens, and the event pulls everyone together who otherwise wouldn't be connected. So, I'm just really intrigued. It grabbed my attention right away, so I'm looking forward to getting back to it. Then I've heard great things about this series. So there's multiple books, and I've heard that all of them are really excellent. So again, that's Chanel Cleeton's The Last Train to Key West, and I've only read, you know, just the briefest part at the beginning here, but I'm looking forward to diving back in."

Book cover of Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson

Jen said, "So, I am reading thanks to's ALC program, Jenny Lawson's Broken (In the Best Possible Way). This is read by the author, Jenny Lawson, and is put together in an essay collection. I would also call it kind of a memoir. I am loving it: her narration is amazing. So, parts of it are very moving, and parts of it are absolutely laugh-out-loud funny. So, Lawson here is talking a lot about her depression, her anxiety. She also has several autoimmune disorders, and so a lot of the more solemn parts of the book are her talking about how she is dealing with those issues and about her discussing the insurance system in the United States and the healthcare industry in the United States and the way that they are broken and the way that she is trying to have a good life while also dealing with these issues, and in some ways compound each other. So at one point, she talks about a medication that helps her auto-immune disorder, but that conflicts with the medicine she's taking for her depression, and just having to make these really horrible decisions about which thing to treat and about which thing to prioritize at that given time, which I know that sounds like a hard read. Those chapters are definitely difficult. But then there are also these chapters that are just hilarious, and they are about just these kind of mundane parts of life, but the way Lawson writes about them is so so funny. There's one part where she's talking about having to groom her dog, and I will say she's pretty profane. There's an area of her dog that she has to have groomed. So she goes to the store and tries to explain what she's trying to do. I mean, I have not laughed so hard in a long, long time listening to an audiobook, but I was cracking up. There's one part where she talks a lot about how we all say dumb things every day, basically, where we say the most awkward thing possible at the worst possible moment every day, and she put out this call on Twitter for people to share that thing that they said, and she is just reading through the responses she got on her Twitter account. I kept having to pause because I was laughing so hard that I couldn't hear the next thing. So yeah, I am just absolutely loving this book, and I think you guys would love it. I can't imagine any readers who would not enjoy this one. So, that is Jenny Lawson's Broken (In the Best Possible Way)."

Book cover of Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French

I am reading a memoir by a chef. Her name is Erin French. She is the owner of the Lost Kitchen, which is a critically acclaimed dining experience, and this is her memoir. The the full name of title of the book is Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story, Remaking a Life from Scratch, and I'm reading it courtesy of NetGalley. This came out already, and I'm a bit behind, but it just came out the very beginning of April, and I am reading it. It is really good. It's about her childhood with working in her father's diner, and she's then growing into young woman and the path that her life takes. I am not too far into it. So, I don't know a ton, but I do know that she has some significant struggles along the way. I really like it so far. You know I love a food memoir. I love books about chefs, and so this is right up my alley, and I'm really enjoying it. So, that is Erin French's Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story: Remaking a Life from Scratch.

Main Discussion: Fairytale Retellings

Book Cover of A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Jen said, "So the series is Brigid Kemmerer's The Cursebreakers, but the book I'm focusing on is A Curse So Dark and Lonely and that is partly because as with many series, if I talk about books two and three, there will be spoilers. I also think that the connection to the fairy tale is strongest in this first book. A Curse So Dark and Lonely alternates between three points of view, and it is based on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. So as in Beauty and the Beast, there is a prince. He is cursed, and he has to find love to break the curse. So, that is at the book's center. The prince here is Rhen, and he has been cursed by a horrible Enchantress to turn into an awful monster periodically. So in Beauty and the Beast, the beast is always a beast. In this retelling, Rhen looks like a handsome prince, but toward the end of the curse each year, which cycles through again and again, he turns into a horrible beast that kills people in the village. He has killed members of his family, and he is very tormented by what he does when he's a beast. He doesn't have control, and he becomes more animal than man, and that is a large part of the curse itself. It's not just the fact that he's a beast, it's that he hurts people and he loses control. He knows that it's coming, so he has become immortal. Because of this curse, with him is a member of his guard named Gray. Gray has been with him since the beginning. They're about the same age. They're both late teens, early 20s, and even though they are the only ones left in the castle, Gray still very much acts the guard and makes sure that Rhen feels like he is the prince. One of the services that Gray has to perform for Rhen is when it's time for Rhen to try to find love again, Gray has the ability to change worlds, and he comes into our world of Earth in the present day. He retrieves a girl or a woman who may fall in love with Rhen and takes her back to this fairytale realm where they live. So, he is wrapped up in this guilt that Rhen feels as well, and he is torn between his duty to run and the feelings he has for these girls who he's taking from their homes and who he's taking from their whole existences and bringing to this other place to try to fall in love with this guy who he knows is eventually going to turn into a beast. So, they have gotten to the end of the curse because this time if Rhen does not fall in love, he is going to die, so they know this is his last chance for love. Gray goes to earth and takes a girl named Harper. Harper is really the first girl who fights back. She fights Gray when he tries to take her, and she gets to this fairytale realm, and she is continuing to fight Gray. She fights Rhen, and she is incredibly defiant. As so often happens in the romances, that is incredibly attractive to the handsome prince. One of the things that I really appreciated about this book is that Harper has cerebral palsy, and this disability becomes a part of her journey in this fairytale realm called Emberfall. Because she has this disability, she has a limp, and she has learned to account for that in the world of Earth. But of course the challenges that she has to deal with in Emberfall are quite different. So, she wants to learn to fight with a sword. So Gray is having to help her figure out how to account for the weakness on that side of her body as she's learning to fight with a sword. Part of this is that she and Gray develop this really strong relationship, so you see this romance developing between her and Rhen as she is challenging him and challenging him to try to do the right thing even though he feels like his fate is always going to end the same way. But you also see her and Gray develop this relationship that is making him think about his own guilt and his own duty to Rhen and his duty to himself. The switch of perspectives here works really, really well, to build suspense and to enrich each of these characters, and I really want to say something about books two and three there. But I will just say, I really appreciate the way that Kemmerer, through the whole series, lets us see different sides of the story and let's us consider points of view that I think other authors might have left out. But Kemmerer does a great job just bringing in this multitude of perspectives so that we can truly understand the impact that this curse has had, even outside of these three characters. So, I know Ashley has read and loved this, too. So Ashley, if I left out something big, you can feel free to chime in. But I just absolutely love A Curse So Dark and Lonely and the whole Cursebreakers trilogy."

Book cover for Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Ashley stated, "So, I wanted to come back to an old favorite for me. And this is Marissa Meyer's Cinder. This is part of The Lunar Chronicles series. I've read all of them, and I thought they were all fantastic, but I'm going to focus on Cinder. I think this is a great pick for people who love fairy tale retellings because each story is a different fairy tale. So Scarlet and Winter and Cress are also other fairy tales. So I think if you like fairy tale retellings, it's nice that it's not just a single. Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella, but then, like Scarlet is Little Red Riding Hood. So I think if you enjoy that, it's cool that each one has its own premise. It's based on a different fairy tale. So, I love that and I wanted to share it for that reason. But another reason I wanted to share this as my pick is because I think that the way Marissa Meyer does such a great job of integrating different parts of the fairy tales, but creating an entirely different world, where these things take place, is really well done. She's building a world. I think that's really cool that you have these connections. So in Cinder, you have connections to the original fairytale in the sense that she has a stepmother and stepsisters who are terrible to her, there is a prince, she does fall in love with the prince. There's limitations that prevent her from being able to connect. So there's all these really nice touchstones to the original fairy tale, but in this version, Cinder is part Android, and so she's a cyborg. So I think that is just really fascinating. It is a sci-fi book as well, and I just think that's really cool. So there's the world where she lives in New Beijing, and she is a cyborg, and because of that she is discriminated against by a lot of the prejudice people in her community. So there's a lot of bias against people who are cyborgs, yet they're a big part of this society. I think that part is really interesting. But also there are people there's a lunar population, hence the title of The Lunar Chronicles. So there are people on the moon, and there is a whole civilization there as well and there's all this stuff happening between—I don't want to spoil—but there's a lot going on between the Lunar population, and the Earth population into that is all just really fascinating. So, I think what's really neat about it is that she takes this story that's commonly known, but then she creates this entire world that is absolutely fascinating and explores that, and so Cinder is a mechanic. She's really good at what she does, and she has an Android, Iko, who helps her, and early on in the book, she is working in her shop, and a heavily cloaked person comes in. As she is helping this person, she comes to realize that it is the prince who has come in and needed some help with an Android. So the story evolves from there, and she gets to know him and becomes a really important part of kind of a motley crew of people who band together—people and androids—who band together to fight against some really horrific things that are happening. There is a plague that is ongoing that they're trying to eradicate and protect the citizens from, and like I said, there's also a lot happening with the lunar community, some of which is known, and some which is not known in the beginning. But those things evolve as the story progresses. I just absolutely love it. I think that Cinder is one of my favorite characters. I love that she is tough, and that she's a mechanic and that she is technical and has a technical mind and is just so different from what you see as being a traditional Cinderella. And yet, this is such a really cool version of that story where she is so empowered, and in control, and assertive, and brave. I just think all of that is really great. So, I can't say enough about the series. I loved all of them. I loved it the whole way through, and I think that's something that's hard to series as well. I thought that each story is unique enough, and yet there's an ongoing narrative that's really fascinating. "

Sara said, "My pick is The House of Salt and Sorrows. This book is by Erin A. Craig and this is a retelling of 'The Twelve Dancing Princesses.' I loved that fairy tale growing up. I just thought it was so romantic, the way that the girls would go out and dance. I just really liked it. I had the background of that fairytale going into this book, and this book is very dark. I do want to say that it is very dark, and there are some very macabre scenes, but I really loved it. I thought it was great, but it was a lot darker than I was anticipating. Even though the book is called The House of Salt and Sorrows, I still thought there would be more of a fairy taleish thing happening, but it definitely was very grim and dark. So anyway, that person who is the main character in the story is Annaleigh. She lives in a place called Highmore. They are people of the sea. So the god that they worship is the sea god. There were 12 sisters, this is not a spoiler, but at the beginning, everybody is in mourning because four of the sisters have died, and each one has had a really sad death, and their mom is dead. It's just everybody in the area thinks that they are cursed because of all of this death, and you come to find out that they have been in mourning. Everybody who dies, it is expected that a year of mourning occurs, and they have been in mourning for like five years because every time they are coming out mourning, another terrible tragedy happens. So that's the start. So, as you can tell it is very grim. Because when I started, I was like 'What is happening?' The twelve sisters are supposed to go dancing, but four of them are dead. So, it is very dark. But anyway, so Annaleigh starts feeling like some of the deaths have been foul play, and she is trying to figure out what is happening and what the foul play is. I don't want to give anything away because there are a lot of twists and turns. And there are lots of characters who come in and out. I mean, it's just very twisty. So I don't want to give away any of the twists because I thought they were really good. But basically, the story is about Annaleigh trying to avenge her sisters' deaths and some things that happen during the course of the stories. She's trying to figure out what is going on. If you are sensitive in terms of like grisly imagery and things like that, there's a lot of grisly imagery that, that I mean, I'm not very sensitive to that, but I thought, you know, that if you get scared or spooked easily, it's pretty intense, especially for a YA novel, but it's great. It's twisty. It's mysterious. It is a little sad in several places. But I thought it was a very clever retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. It was not at all what I expected, and it was kind of creepy, like a ghost story. I think this would be great for our Spooky Reads Episode because it was pretty spooky and mysterious. So, I really liked it. It was a very worth it and very compelling. I read it and listened to the audio, and the narrator on the audio was terrific. So, I recommend this one. That is The House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig.. It's a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses."

Give Me One - Household Chore You Don't Mind Doing

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