Book Review: Under My Hat – Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan

Book Review: Under My Hat – Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan

Shelved: Young adult (fantasy, paranormal – various)
Rating: ★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I used to be one of those people who avoided short stories. And ‘proper fantasy’, for that matter. So why, you may ask, did I pick up this collection? Well, Halloween is one of my favourite holidays and I feel like we just don’t celebrate it properly here. Sure, you’ll find a lot of Halloween-related goodies in shops, but I’m not quite sure what people actually do with them once they buy them. I’ve never been trick-or-treating (it’s probably a bit late now, eh?), not that we’re accustomed to that either. (We’re more likely to turn the lights off and pretend we’re not in). So, instead, I celebrate Halloween on my own by picking up a suitable book to read. Last year, I decided to re-read Dark Inside, and the year before that I read The Name of the Star, and the year before that I read The Little Stranger. And this year I thought I’d go with something a little different.

I quickly discovered, much to my delight, that short story collections are perfect commuter books! I loved being able to finish a story or two on my way to work – sheer luxury! I decided not to look up each story before I actually started reading – I only knew that Neil Gaiman’s contribution was a poem – so I didn’t really know what to expect every time I started a new one. Under My Hat is such a varied collection, with mythical folk stories that feel centuries old to more contemporary stories that take place today. I did not love all of the stories equally, but with such a diverse selection, this is neither surprisingly nor unexpected. If I do read paranormal or fantasy, I tend to enjoy stories that blend the fantastical with the real (is this magical realism?), like Harry Potter or Vampire Academy, so I was drawn more to those, but there’s plenty of them here!

Stray Magic by Diana Peterfreund, the first in the collection, is a whimsical yet touching story about Goneril, a magical talking dog who has been abandoned and is desperate to find her way back to her master. She has to with very little time to spare because if she doesn’t, she’ll perish. I couldn’t help but picture Goneril as Dug from Up. It’s both witty and endearing, with a sassy little creature at its heart. Little Gods by Holly Black was one of the more modern stories. It reminded me of one of my all-time favourite series, Wicca (or Sweep) by Cate Tiernan. Sixteen-year-old Ellery experiences something exciting and new when she attends a party – her first Wiccan Sabbat. Ellery’s tired of being treated like a child and longs to be part of a group of people who see her as just another person in the gang, even if they are a little odd, according to her parents. Little Gods leaves you wondering whether it’s a story about real magic or simply a coming-of-age tale. The Education of a Witch by Ellen Klages, one of the most quirky and thrilling stories, is from the perspective of a little girl. Lizzy develops a somewhat obsessive fascination with Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, which almost makes me feel happy that I’m an only child… And although I’m not a particular fan of poetry (I know, I know!), I really did enjoy Neil Gaiman’s offering, Witch Work, which I re-read a couple of times.

If you’re like me and prefer the magical mixed with the real world, perhaps give Under My Hat a shot as there’s a story for everyone, whether you’re reading it at Halloween or not. If you’d like to see a full list of stories, there’s one over on Goodreads.

Published: 28th August 2012 (US) 4th October 2012 (UK)
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (US) Hot Key Books (UK)
Pages: 432
Source: Thank you Hot Key Books for providing this book for review!

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