betsy cornwell

“There are spotless maidens and evil crones in fairy tales, true, but there are monsters as well, and it is in the monstrous that good and evil exist together, much as they do in our own hearts. The Beast has a prince within him, the selkie a beautiful maiden or youth, the werewolf an innocent man. Sometimes these monstrous shiftings, these transformations, are arguing simplistically for Divine Right once again … but sometimes, oh, sometimes they enact something far more wondrous strange. Red Riding Hood emerges from the gut of the wolf, and we are hunter and girl and beast all at once as we hear the tale. We see ourselves reflected in the broken mirrors of all these imperfect stories.”

–Betsy Cornwell on the deeper meaning of fairy tales from our Winter issue “Goodness.” Read the full essay online.

Help support Parabola by subscribing.

Photography Credit: André Kertész, Girls in Fairy Costumes, New York 1938.

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HALLOWEEN/ OCTOBER 2015 BOOK HAUL

Shit. I’m broke. Happy, but broke. 

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Hi everyone! So, because I’m excited about advance copies of my second book, Mechanica, coming out soon, I’ve decided that I feel like sending a bunch of review copies of my first book, Tides, to my dear Tumblr friends. LOTS OF YOU. Like, this is not a contest. I will send up to, I dunno, MANY.

So here is the deal! I will send you an e-copy of my selkies-and-magic-and-queerness-and-romance YA debut if you agree to post an honest review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. You just have to be following me and agree to write a review (it doesn’t even have to be a good one). That is all.

If you want to read a new book but don’t have extra money right now–or if you’re a book blogger, or would like to try your hand at being one–this is for you. Send me your email address or reblog with a “yes please!” or similar and I’ll hook you up.

And if you want to talk about the book on Tumblr or anywhere else, of course, that’s just a bonus and I will extra love you.

Yay for free reading!

Tides by Betsy Cornwell

External image

Released: 4th June, 2013 

Genre: YA, myth, lore, selkies, fantasy, kickass ladies, urban fantasy, lgbtq fiction, love stories

Synopsis: When high-school senior Noah Gallagher and his adopted teenage sister, Lo, go to live with their grandmother in her island cottage for the summer, they don’t expect much in the way of adventure. Noah has landed a marine biology internship, and Lo wants to draw and paint, perhaps even to vanquish her struggles with bulimia. But then things take a dramatic turn for them both when Noah mistakenly tries to save a mysterious girl from drowning. This dreamlike, suspenseful story—deftly told from multiple points of view—dives deeply into selkie folklore while examining the fluid nature of love and family. (Via GOODREADS)

Perfect reading for: I would love to read this book when I’m down south at the beach. Sitting by the rockpools and reading this would have been amazing. 

How I read it: I read this on a rainy train ride into university for the most part. The storms delayed the trains, leaving me more time for reading (no complaints here, many complaints from the rest of the carriage). The lovely author offered me a digital copy of Tides, and how could I refuse! (insert Barbie and the Princess and the Pauper singalong here..)

You should read this if you liked:  I’m really not very versed in selkie lore, so this book was really my introduction! I’m missing the summer weather and the ocean as winter is rolling toward me, so reading this was such a lovely escape. 

Cover:  (I mean look at it, it’s so pretty. The colours are gorgeous)

Writing style: ★★★★

Plot: ★★★★★ (I loved the pacing to this book. There was a lovely combination of flashbacks to Maebh and Gemm’s story, insight into selkie lore, and the individual stories and struggles of the main characters Noah, Lo, and Mara)

Characters ★★★★☆ (I’m so grateful for all of these characters. They’re so wonderfully real. All of them are beautifully developed, which is an accomplishment given that Tides is written from multiple perspectives) 

Overall enjoyment: ★★★★★ (Had me so engrossed that I stopped monitoring my facial expressions. The guy next to me sniggered every time I forgot I was in public and murmered something to myself or gasped) 

Would I read it again: Yes and yes! I really loved the selkie lore, and I have no doubt that I’ll want to reread this when start missing summer. 

Review - Tides by Betsy Cornwell

A while back someone pointed me to Tides, selling me on it by telling me that the grandmother was queer.   Since finding older queer characters is something akin to finding a needle in a haystack, I was pleased to give it a try.   Especially since I found out that the author, Betsy Cornwell, is bisexual!   

My favorite part of this book was the selkies.  I have a weakness for stories about selkies as independent sexual women.  I liked the mythology and culture that Cornwell develops here where they selkies live communally in pods, caring for their younglings, and yet yearning for freedom as they grow into adulthood.  I wish we would have gotten to see more their kind, but I’m hoping that will come in her sequel

The grandmother in this story, Gemm, is probably my favorite character.   It is presented as though her 40 year marriage to a man was her denying her true feelings for the selkie girl she fell in love with when she was young.  Gemm only married her ex-husband because it was the proper thing to do before later in life coming to her senses and coming home to the true love of her life.   The result is that Gemm and Maebh are possibly one of the sweetest adult queer couples I’ve ever seen in a book for tweens and teens!    The revelation of their romance and their past is leisurely, but grounded in true partnership of equals.   It’s made more poignant by the fact that so much of the selkie mythology referenced is about humans exploiting or controlling their selkie mates.  Their relationship is loving, adorable, and utterly compelling.   

But there were some things about this book that didn’t quite hit.   Foster is a stock villain so obvious that you practically expect him to be twirling a big black mustache.  There are a few offhanded comments about anti-aging and cancer, but you never really understand why he is torturing selkies in his attic.  

Another character that never really gelled was Lo, an Asian American teen transracially adopted into this white family.  It’s nice to see a character of color in a story based in Irish folklore, but ultimately her story arc about bulimia remains vague and unresolved.  Does she ever overcome her eating disorder?  Or even accept that it is killing her?  

Overall, I found Tides a sweet debut.    I can see tweens and teens enjoying the blend of folklore and sweet romance in Tides, as well as learning a little mythology.  The loving relationship between an older queer couple makes it stand out from the crowd.  And I’m always glad to see a book written by a bisexual author.

- Sarah

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[attempts to take photos of cosplay in my crowded bedroom with only a self-timer camera]  ok so I might be able to get my friend to take better pictures later but for now it’s these and some other from my ipad camera which will also be here. Two versions because my mum gave me the hat and waistcoat!

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New Releases » August 11

Here’s a selection of new YA novels hitting shelves this week! For lists of weekly releases and all things YA lit, visit our website, follow us here and on Twitter, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter!

U.S.

Another Day (Every Day #2) by David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release date: August 25th
Every day is the same for Rhiannon until the morning her boyfriend Justin seems to see her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning.

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release date: August 25th
When seventeen-year-old Iranian American Kamran Smith learns that his brother has been labeled a terrorist, he knows something isn’t right. It’s up to Kamran to prove his brother’s innocence.

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender
Publisher: Point
Release date: August 25th
Delia’s new house used to be an insane asylum, a place to lock up “troubled” young women. And a restless, wicked spirit is still at play–and it doesn’t want defiant girls like Delia to go anywhere.

Dead Upon a Time by Elizabeth Paulson
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release date: August 25th
A sinister kidnapper is on the loose in Kate’s world. She’s not involved until one day she heads to her grandmother’s house in the woods – and finds her grandmother has also been taken.

Diary of a Haunting by M. Varano
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: August 25th
Strange things are happening in Paige’s new house. Things only get creepier when she learns about the sinister cult that conducted experimental rituals in the house almost a hundred years earlier.

Frost by E. Latimer
Publisher: Patchwork Press
Release date: August 25th
Megan Walker’s touch has turned to ice. She can’t stop the frost, and the consequences of her first kiss are horrifying. Megan finds herself caught up in an ancient war between Norse giants.

Game On by Calvin Slater
Publisher: Kensington Teen
Release date: August 25th
Xavier Hunter hoped senior year would be bad news-free. But he’s not hearing good things about his dream girl’s new man. Showing Samantha the truth could be the one game Xavier can’t win…

Hide and Seek (Jess Tennant #3) by Jane Casey
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release date: August 25th
In Port Sentinel, the tiny English town where Jess Tennant has been living for more than a year, Jess Tennant’s classmate is kidnapped right before the Christmas holiday.

Insidious (The Twixt #3) by Dawn Metcalf
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: August 25th
Joy Malone finally knows who she is, where she comes from and how to live in two worlds at once. But when Ink’s twin sister, Invisible Inq, calls in a favor, Joy must accept a dangerous mission.

Keepers of the Labyrinth by Erin E. Moulton
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release date: August 25th
Lilith Bennette runs at midnight. She hopes that if she follows exactly in the steps of her strong air force pilot mother, she’ll somehow figure out the mystery of her mother’s death.

Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2) by Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release date: August 25th
After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O'Neill has outed herself as a Diviner earning the title, “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners’ abilities…

Legacy of Kings (Blood of Gods and Royals #1) by Eleanor Herman
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: August 25th
Alexander, Macedonia’s sixteen-year-old heir, is on the brink of discovering his fated role in conquering the known world but finds himself drawn to newcomer Katerina.

A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher
Publisher: Chicken House
Release date: August 25th
As a young child Eponine never knew kindness, except once from her family’s kitchen slave, Cosette. At sixteen their circumstances are reversed. Eponine must decide what their friendship is worth.

Maid of Wonder (Maids of Honor #3) by Jennifer McGowan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release date: August 25th
Thrust into a dangerous and horrifying competition to solve a deadly prediction before the next doomed soul dies, Sophia finds herself pitted against the most celebrated mystics of Europe.

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release date: August 25th
Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica”. The nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop.

Stranded by Melinda Braun
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: August 25th
Plagued with guilt after surviving the car accident that took her sister’s life, Emma ventures into the mysterious wilderness of the Boundary Waters and must fend for herself when a storm hits.

Thirteen Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: August 25th
When Luke Manchett’s estranged father dies unexpectedly, he leaves his son a dark inheritance: a collection of eight restless spirits who want revenge for their long enslavement.

Until Friday Night (The Field Party #1) by Abbi Glines
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: August 25th
West Ashby has everything. But while West may be Big Man on Campus on the outside, on the inside he’s battling the grief that comes with watching his father slowly die of cancer.

Air Awakens (Air Awakens #1) by Elise Kova
Publisher: Silver Wing Press
Release date: August 27th
The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.

U.K.

Concentr8 by William Sutcliffe
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release date: August 27th
Concentr8 is a prescription drug intended to help kids with ADD. Soon every troubled teen is on it, to keep the undesirable elements in line and keep people like us safe from people like them.

One by Sarah Crossan
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release date: August 27th
Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins. And their lives are about to change. What neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Publisher: Walker Books
Release date: August 27th
What if you aren’t the Chosen One? What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

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Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there—and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules—be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last.

Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince … but realizes she doesn’t want a fairy tale happy ending after all.


I received a free copy via Edelweiss for review purposes.

I’ve had my eye on Mechanica for a while now because I love fairytale retellings. Cornwell takes some of the most memorable traits from Cinderella, but makes it her own, creating this original steampunk take on one of our childhood favourite fairytales. Nicolette’s mother was an inventor, and she taught Nicolette mostly everything she knew. After her mother’s death, Nicolette’s father remarried - and we know how the rest goes; there is a ball, a prince, but also an exposition where Nicolette can show of her inventions and finally earn her freedom from her evil Stepmother and step-sisters, but does Nicolette get a happy ever after?

My favourite part of Mechanica was the beginning, which started off very strongly, and we learned the history of the kingdom, of the fae, the political tensions between humans and the fae, and the background of Nicolette herself. I thought the world-building was great and I loved the incorporation of Fae and their magic. This was one of the high points of the novel. I loved several of the characters too, though I can’t say that Nicolette was one of them (though I rather admired her strength).

Mechanica strays quite a lot from the original source material, but that’s what makes it’s a great and original story. The reason this is not getting a higher rating from me is because I felt it was rather slow during the middle, and the resolution was all quite neat, even with some political tensions between the fae and humans still left unanswered and unresolved. In fact, it actually leaves it quite open for a sequel.

For those concerned, Mechanica is absolutely nothing at all like Cinder. The only thing they share in common is that they’re both inventors/mechanics, though Mechanica is set in a steampunk setting. Otherwise, the story and characters differ vastly. I wouldn’t pass this up because you’re worried about it being a carbon copy of Cinder.

Overall, I think it could have been better, but an enjoyable read nonetheless.

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Pre-order at Book Depository

“There are spotless maidens and evil crones in fairy tales, true, but there are monsters as well, and it is in the monstrous that good and evil exist together, much as they do in our own hearts. The Beast has a prince within him, the selkie a beautiful maiden or youth, the werewolf an innocent man. Sometimes these monstrous shiftings, these transformations, are arguing simplistically for Divine Right once again … but sometimes, oh, sometimes they enact something far more wondrous strange. Red Riding Hood emerges from the gut of the wolf, and we are hunter and girl and beast all at once as we hear the tale. We see ourselves reflected in the broken mirrors of all these imperfect stories.”

–Betsy Cornwell on the deeper meaning of fairy tales from our Winter issue “Goodness." Read the full essay online

Help support Parabola by subscribing.

Art Credit: John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893), Spirit of the Night, 1879. Featured in our new Winter 2014/2015 issue: "Goodness.”

Interview with Betsy Cornwell, author of Tides
So we were super excited when we found out that Betsy Cornwell, author of the Bisexual Book Award nominated Tides was herself a bisexual author!   Tides is a YA paranormal romance with selkies, so we asked her a little bit about her life, her work, and why selkies warm the cockles of our little bisexual hearts.  

BB: Tell us a little bit about your coming out experience. BC: There isn’t any one memory that stands out to me as a definitive coming out experience. Since I dated the same boy all through high school and college, everyone assumed I was straight. My boyfriend at the time knew that I was attracted to other genders, and I’d talked about it with my closest friends, but I only started being actively “out” towards the end of college and the beginning of graduate school. The coolest coming out moment I had was when an old friend told me he’s gay, and I replied with “Oh, I’m bisexual!” and we both burst out laughing. At this point in my life, I really value being part of bisexual representation, especially as a cis woman married to a cis man. It’s easy for people to look at my lifestyle and assume that I’m straight, and I don’t want that to happen! I wish I’d known that some of the adults in my life were bisexual when I was a kid; I think it really would have helped with my self-acceptance. I hope to be able to help do that for kids now, especially as an author. BB: Do you think of selkies as a metaphor for bisexuality or are we just over thinking it? BC: I think selkies are a salient metaphor for a lot of things–bisexuality is definitely one of them! More generally, I think selkies represent the fluidity of sexuality. They are inherently shapeshifters, moving from one form to another, and the people they love do the same. The selkie stories are also an interesting way for me to approach body image in my writing. How does anyone learn to be comfortable with the skin they’re in–and how is that magnified when you have more than one? But then, sexuality and body image overlap in a lot of ways in my head, so it makes sense that I’d see selkies as an intersection of those issues, too. BB: My favorite characters in Tides were Gemm and Maebh.   Why did you decide to make an older queer couple so central to the story? BC: Gemm and Maebh’s romance was one of the first elements of the story; I don’t think I decided to put it there as much as it just walked into my head as I started to think about the book. Even before Noah (my main character) was named Noah, his grandmother was in love with a selkie woman. It wasn’t a stretch for me to have a queer romance in my writing, because queerness is part of my life and imagination anyway. Gemm is also partly inspired by my thesis advisor from Smith College, Betsey Harries–my mentor and friend and a wonderful older queer lady. I wrote the second draft of Tides under her care and direction, and she definitely influenced the way that Gemm’s character developed. BB: How do you think your bisexuality informs your writing overall? BC: Queerness informs my writing in the same way it informs my life: holistically. It’s always there, always a part of my worldview. In that same way, I think all of my writing is queer writing, even if it doesn’t specifically focus on “queer themes.” On the other hand, though, I also think it’s important to write about things that aren’t part of my specific experience of the world. One of my favorite writing teachers, Valerie Sayers, says that writing is all about the other. Reading fiction is like that too, in that it expands our experience of the world and especially our empathy. BB: What do you have coming up in the future? BC: My steampunk retelling of Cinderella (featuring more bisexuality and queerness, oh yes) is currently with my editor, and is slated to come out in the spring of 2015. I am also writing a sequel to Tides called Compass that follows my character Ronan to Ireland as he searches for other selkies; that book is a loose retelling of the “Seven Tears Into The Sea” and “Great Selchie of Sule Skerry” selkie folklore. I am also writing about fairy tales and mythology forParabola magazine, and I have a teaching job coming up in the Virgin Islands this summer. I also keep dairy goats here in my cottage in Ireland, and I harbor dreams of selling goats milk cheeses and soaps in the future!