The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

My Five Word TL:DR Review : A modern day fairy tale


I will start this review by saying short stories are not usually my thing, in fact I tend to avoid them because I know I’ll be left wanting more – and strangely enough, I want more of Tetley Abednego, but in this instance it’s not a criticism.  I want more because I can’t get enough of this character, this world, the words on the page, the emotional depth and the hope that is delivered in the final pages.

Valente has managed to write a story that on the face of it appears hopeless and yet she infuses this with her own whimsical style and instead of creating something bleak and full of doom comes up with a character who is so supremely hopeful, who sees the beauty in this strange world that is all she’s ever known and gives us a feeling that perhaps things could be better.

Once upon a time a young girl, was born in Candlehole in a place known as Garbagetown.  Having managed to survive this strange and bizarre world, finding beauty in stories and looking for leftovers from the previous world before everything was covered in water, she became known as Tetley.  For a long period she was hated for a terrible mistake she made, although this was carried out in good faith.  She accepted her punishment, expecting sometimes to die on any given day and eventually she came to live alone – until she discovered she wasn’t alone at all.  The end.

Obviously this is a story with a meaning behind it.  Valente handles this well and it isn’t the type of tale that feels like it’s preaching.  More, the author gives the story a kind of inevitability, the world is underwater, a handful of survivors live a bizarre life on a strange floating mass of waste left over from the days before everything went pear-shaped.  There’s a strange kind of irony that the rubbish from our throw away society becomes the means for life in this unusual story.

This could be such a book of despair and yet it doesn’t go down that route.  For the survivors, they have never known any different so there isn’t the strange nostalgia of the ‘good old days’.  Instead, they have these mementoes from the past and they use them – not only to live but to create stories and myths.

Tetley is a fantastic character to read.  She tells her tale simply, she doesn’t become involved in making excuses or feeling sorry for herself or blaming others.  It is what it is and I just loved her refreshingly direct manner.  I would happily read more in fact I would love to do so.

I loved the writing.  Unlike garbagetown, which is made up of waste, Valente manages to give every word and sentence meaning.  Nothing is wasted here and to be honest she is a magnificent storyteller.  She grabbed my attention almost from the first page and I was hooked from there onwards.  She brings her creation to life in the mind’s eye with an ease that belies the difficulty of such an undertaking.

Valente – I salute you.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

Wondrous Words and Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente

Every Wednesday I take part in Can’t Wait Wednesday, I’m also hoping to take part in a new meme being hosted by Elza Reads called Wondrous Words Wednesday.  I’ll be combining these into the same posts as they’re both short and sweet.

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente:


Catherynne M. Valente, the bestselling and award-winning creator of Space Opera and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland returns with The Past is Red, the enchanting, dark, funny, angry story of a girl who made two terrible mistakes: she told the truth and she dared to love the world.

The future is blue. Endless blue…except for a few small places that float across the hot, drowned world left behind by long-gone fossil fuel-guzzlers. One of those patches is a magical place called Garbagetown.

Tetley Abednego is the most beloved girl in Garbagetown, but she’s the only one who knows it. She’s the only one who knows a lot of things: that Garbagetown is the most wonderful place in the world, that it’s full of hope, that you can love someone and 66% hate them all at the same time.

But Earth is a terrible mess, hope is a fragile thing, and a lot of people are very angry with her. Then Tetley discovers a new friend, a terrible secret, and more to her world than she ever expected.

Expected Publication July 2021


This meme was first created by Kathy over at Bermuda Onion Blog and has now been adopted by Elza Reads.

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where you can share new words that you’ve encountered, or spotlight words you love.

No rules just enjoy and for further info check out Elza Reads.

My word this week is :



  • a discolored, bluish appearance caused by a bruise, pooling of blood due to congestion of blood vessels, strangulation, etc.:When the dead person is lying on their back, lividity will form on the buttocks, back, or backs of the legs.
  • a grayish or ashen appearance of the face; pallor:The traditional ghost image usually involves a certain paleness of the face—a corpselike lividity.
  • furious anger:When the generator they’d ordered arrived late and then failed to work, her lividity knew no bounds.
  • a reddish appearance of the face, as from strong emotion or embarrassment:I was on the shore with my parents, watching the sky flush scarlet with a hue like lividity rising to an angry face.

This is from my most recent read and the meaning used in this instance is the first given meaning above.  I tend to think of this word more in terms of anger for some reason – the word Livid:

Livid (adj.)

Early 15c., “of a bluish-leaden color,” from Old French livide (13c.) and directly from Latin lividus “of a bluish color, black-and-blue,” figuratively “envious, spiteful, malicious,” from livere “be bluish,” earlier *slivere, from PIE *sliwo-, suffixed form of root *sleiə- “bluish” (source also of Old Church Slavonic and Russian sliva “plum;” Lithuanian slyvas “plum;” Old Irish li, Welsh lliw “color, splendor,” Old English sla “sloe”).

As mentioned above I picked this up from my most recent read which is a book which completely hooked me with it’s strange cold horror like feel :

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey (my review to follow shortly):

The echo

That’s it for this week.  If you’re taking part in both of these or either please don’t forget to link up.

Friday Face Off : “The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow!


(May is the month of Wyrd and Wonder – details here, Twitter: @wyrdandwonder)

FFOHere we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book, compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below – the list has been updated to help out those of you who like to plan ahead – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.  This week’s theme:

“The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow!” – A cover featuring a fantasy beast

Obviously I wanted to go with Tolkien this week but decided not to because I do tend to overdo it – although is it possible to overdo Tolkien?  I don’t think so.  Anyway, this week I’ve gone with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making (Fairyland #1) by Catherynne M. Valente.  Now, most of the covers are fairly similar and just involve colour variations – but what do you think of the fantasy beast?  Anyway, here they are:

I think these are all quite nice, but I’m going to have to go for:


Which one is your favourite?

Like last week I’ve added a Mr Linky here so that you can leave a link if you wish or please leave me a link in the comments so we can all visit and check out each others covers.  Thanks

I’ve updated the list and included themes through to the end of 2019 – I’ve also included events that I’m aware of so that you can perhaps link your themes up where possible (if you know of an event you’d like to share that let me know in the comments).  I also have a list prepared for 2020 and so will set up a separate page soon for forthcoming themes.  As always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment.

Next week – A cover featuring ‘magical things’

Future themes: (if you’re struggling with any of these themes then use a ‘freebie’ or one of your favourite covers)


(May is the month of Wyrd and Wonder – details here, Twitter: @wyrdandwonder)

24th May – “bibbity, bobbity, boo” – A cover that features ‘magical things’

31st May –  “simples” – A favourite fantasy cover 

7th June  – “One swallow does not make a summer” – A cover that makes you think of Summer 

14th June – “Coraline opened the box of chocolates. The dog looked at them longingly.” – A cover featuring something sweet

21st June – Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year – Pagan rituals/standing stones/blazing suns – a cover with your own interpretation

28th June – “And who decided which people wore the striped pyjamas” – A cover that is striped

5th July – “The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe… has been answered” –  a cover featuring something/somebody historic 

12th July – A wrap around cover

19th July – “You can’t choose between life and death when we’re dealing with what is in between.” – A cover that is grainy or looks like ‘white noise’

26th July – “Ludo ….. down” – A cover that is Upside Down

2nd August – “There are children here somewhere. I can smell them.” A cover featuring children

9th August – “I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request.” – A cover featuring Pirates

16th August – “The haft of the arrow had been feathered with one of the eagles own plumes” – a cover featuring feathers

23rd August – A cover that is a movie tie in

30th August – “I wandered lonely as a cloud” – a cover that is predominantly yellow

6th September “Warm September brings the fruit” – a cover that is seasonal for Autumn/Fall

13th September – Friday the 13th – unlucky for some!  A cover with ‘curse’ in the title

20th September – “Your hair is winter fire,January embers.” – A cover featuring hair

27th September – Freebie

4th October – “Feed me Seymour” – A cover that is 60s horror

11th October – ““And, though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn they were one and the same.”  – a cover featuring an Inn

18th October – “It’s your favorite scary movie, remember? He had on the white mask, he stalked the babysitters.” – A cover featuring a scream

25th October – for Halloween – pick any scary cover you like

(I’m hoping that November will once again bring to us SciFiMonth – Twitter @SciFiMonth)

1st November – A cover that is predominantly grey

8th November – “big badda boom” – a cover that features an explosion

15th November – “No thinking thing should be another thing’s property, to be turned on and off when it is convenient.” – a cover featuring a robot

22nd November – A cover that is Futuristic

29th November – “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.” – a cover that is 60s sci fi

6th December – Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this sun of York”  – a cover that puts you in mind of winter

13th December – A cover that features a temple/or religious icon

20th December – Longest Night –  a dark and foreboding cover

27th December – the festive season – a cover that is glittery or sparkling

(2020 – January is Vintage SciFi month so I’ll be including possible themes to take that on board.)

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – for a Little While by Catherynne Valente

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland is a lovely short story, a prequel, to CV’s other Fairyland stories.  I’m not going to go into great depth about it in this review because it’s only a very short story that you could devour in one quick sitting.  I don’t advise you to do so however, take your time a little and linger over the words.  In typical Valente style we have a beautiful little story filled with magic, lovely characters and whimsical writing.  Valente is a master of words and it’s a joy to read her stories.  The only problem with this being that it’s so quickly over!  On the other hand of course there’s always the option to reread.

The story features Mallow, who simply wants to stay at home and read her books.  She practices magic, a little.  She likes to be left alone, apart from trading for goods with the other inhabitants of Fairy.  I don’t suppose she’s a recluse, any more than I would be if I had the opportunity to stay at home and do exactly what I want!!  However, times seem  to be changing.  The residents of fairyland are being called to a gathering and a tithe will be called for.  None of them can really recall what a tithe is to be fair as it’s been so long since one was last taken but a general sense of foreboding takes hold.

Rather than say much more I wanted to give a couple of quotes from the book that I loved and highlighted as I read:

“a life is only so long.  It should be spent in as much peace and good eating and good reading as possible and no undue excitement.  That is all I am after”

“Curiosity woke with sharp teeth within her”

I highlighted more but thought better of regurgitating the full book here.  Instead go and buy it and read it for yourself.

A lovely tale, beautifully written.


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente

Just finished reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (henceforth known as TGWCF) which in the words of Holly Black is “A mad, toothsome romp of a fairy tale”

The GWCF is a lovely, beautifully written fairytale come adventure which I think both adults and children would equally enjoy and I think it would make an excellent story to read out loud.

The story features a 12 year old girl called September who is spirited away one evening on the back of a Leopard of Little Breezes accompanied by a Green Wind.  September is a somewhat lonely child, her father is away at war, her mother works long hours in a factory and September, being of a whimsical nature, longs for adventure.  Her wish is, of course, about to be granted.

This is a lovely tale beautifully written and illustrated and incorporating such a lot of new ideas.  As I was reading I had so many things running through my mind, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia not to mention Labyrinthe, The Never Ending Story and Peter Pan and the author clearly gives a shout out to a few of these during the chapter headed ‘The Island of the Nasnas’ where during a discussion regarding how one enters fairyland, apart from as a changeling or ravished ‘… there’s those that Stumble through a gap in the hedgerows or a mushroom ring or a tornado or a wardrobe full of winter coats.”  But, for me, the beauty of this book is that whilst feeling similar to so many family favourites and provoking such nostalgia in me as I read, it is actually not like any particular one.  Sometimes it was as though I had a fleeting notion of something but it disappeared before I could give it more thought or pin it firmly down.

In terms of characters – of which there are an abundance – let’s firstly talk about September.  An odd little girl, strangely down to earth.  She’s described in the book as irascible and heartless and yet clearly neither is really true as she proves on a number of occasions by putting herself at risk and refusing the easy way out, insisting instead upon helping her friends.  She shows plenty of heart really and is quite the adventurer.  I did feel so sorry for her on a number of occasions but she never really moped about – she shed the odd tear but pretty soon recovered and continued on her quest.  Alongside this we have the Marquess and her pet cat – the villain of the piece – I won’t mention more here except the Marquess turns out to be something of a surprise on more than one count  My absolute favourite of the peace though, without doubt – was A through L, otherwise known as Ell, a gorgeous scaly Wyverary (which I’ve never heard of before and simply thought was a dragon which shows how much I know).  I love this character.  On top of this we have an abundance of characters, usually strangely named, who put in an appearance at the appropriate time.

I don’t really want to say much more here as it will spoil the story.  Simply, if you’re young at heart and enjoy a good fairy tale then The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making could be for you and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  The end.

Now, I had a think about whether I could include this for my RIP event, so I rechecked and I think I can – I think this falls into ‘supernatural’ – come on – it has a Wyverary!  Check out this event here – you’re still not too late to join in!