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Adult Fairy Tales and Fairy Tale Retellings, Part 1

Swan, castle and other fairy tale imagery

July 16, 2020

What would a good fairy tale for an adult look like? Would it have poison apples, wicked witches and handsome princes? Maybe…It might. But it might not. It might be the essence of the fairy tale remolded to tell a different kind of story.

Fairy tales are often viewed as “childish” or only for children, but the books on this list are for grown-ups with a taste for fairy tales, myths and magic. 

Enjoy these retellings and reimaginings, and keep an eye out for part 2 of this list, coming soon!

And if you're really a fan of the genre, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our fairy tale retellings for teens, too! 


Book Cover: THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS

"THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS" by JOHN CONNOLLY

David is mourning the death of his mother. He’s angry and alone with only his books for company. Lately, those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. He finds that reality and fantasy have begun to swirl together. As his family falls apart, David is propelled into a land that seems to be a strange reflection of his own world, and populated by heroes and monsters, all ruled over by a king who keeps all his secrets in a mysterious book.

Book Cover: THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI

"THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI" by HELENE WECKER

Also available as both an e-book and an audiobook

Chava is a golem, made of clay and brought to life by a disgraced rabbi, who dies at sea. Arriving in New York with no guidance, Chava is adrift. Ahmad is a jinni born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Released from his copper flask in New York, Ahmad is still not entirely free. They soon become friends and soul mates with a connection.

Book Cover: THE SNOW CHILD

"THE SNOW CHILD" by EOWYN IVEY

Also available as both an e-book and an audiobook

Alaska in 1920 is a difficult place to make a living and is especially hard for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are beginning to drift apart; Jack is breaking under the hard work on the farm and Mabel is unable to escape the loneliness and despair. In a brief moment of fun, they build a child out of snow. The next morning their snow child is gone and they glimpse a young girl running through the trees. The little girl, Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox, skims across the snow and manages to survive. Jack and Mabel come to love Faina as their own daughter. But here things are rarely as they appear. What they eventually learn will transform them all.

Book Cover: JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL

"JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL " by SUSANNE CLARKE

Available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, most people believe that magic has disappeared from England. Until Mr. Norrell reveals his powers and becomes a celebrity. But another practicing magicians also emerges, Jonathan Strange. Strange becomes Norrell’s pupil and the two join forces to defend England. Strange is becoming drawn to the wildest most perilous form of magic and he risks sacrificing his partnership with Norrell and everything else he holds dear.

Book Cover: THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB

"THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB" by GENEVIEVE VALENTINE

Jo, “The General” to her younger sisters is the closest thing the Hamilton girls have to a mother. She taught them how to dance, the one who lets them know when it’s time to slip out of their father’s townhouse to wait for cabs that will take them to a speakeasy. They manage elude their distant father, until he decides to marry them off. The girls continue to dance, making their home away from home at the Kingfisher Club. Caught in a raid, and separated, Jo runs into someone from her past, Tom a bootlegger she hasn’t seen in ten years. Now she needs balance the demands of her father and sisters and those she’s making for herself.

Book Cover: HOUSE OF NAMES

"HOUSE OF NAMES" by COLM TóIBíN

The sister of the much more famous Helen, Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon, and mother of the murdered Iphigenia plots the death of her husband, once he returns from Troy. While Agamemnon was fighting in Troy, Clytemnestra ruled his kingdom with her lover Aegisthus. Although she is judged and despised by the Gods, Clytemnestra reveals a tragic saga that led to this bloody overthrow.

Book Cover: THE WINTER SISTER

"THE WINTER SISTER" by MEGAN COLLINS

Also available as an e-book

Sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s sister Persephone never came home. Out with her forbidden boyfriend, her body was found three days later. Persephone’s murder remained unsolved. Sylvie returns home to care for her estranged mother Anne, who has never recovered from Persephone’s murder. Ben, Persephone’s forbidden boyfriend now works as a nurse at the cancer center where her mother is being treated. Sylvie believes that Ben was responsible, but she also carries her own guilt about that night. Navigating a complicated relationship with her mother, Sylvie begins to uncover the secrets that fill their house. Exploring the complicated bond between sisters and between mothers and daughters, this novels asks how well we know the people we love the most.

Book Cover: GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW

"GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW " by SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA

Also available as an e-book and as an audiobook

The Jazz Age may be in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning floors in her wealthy grandfather’s house. She dreams of a life far away from her dusty small town in Mexico. This new life seems as far away as the stars, until she finds a wooden box in her grandfather’s room. Opening it she accidently frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death. He requests her help in recovering his throne. Failure will mean death, but success could make all her dreams come true. This quest will take her across the country from the Yucatan to Mexico City and deep into the Mayan underworld.

Book Cover: THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE

"THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE" by KATHERINE ARDEN

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the nights are long. Vasilisa and her siblings gather near the fire to listen to fairy tales. Vasya loves the story of the winter demon Frost. Wise folk fear him, for he claims unwary souls. Vasya’s widowed father brings  home a new wife who is devout and forbids her new family from honoring their household spirits. Vasya fears what this may bring and soon misfortune begins to affect the village. Vasya’s new step mothers is determined to remake the village to her liking and wants to groom Vasya for marriage or the convent. The village defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps closer. Vasya must call upon the gifts she has long concealed to protect her family and her village. First in a series.

Book Cover: GINGERBREAD

"GINGERBREAD" by HELEN OYEYEYMI

Also available as an e-book

Perdita Lee seems to be your average school girl. Harriet Lee seems to be a working mother, trying to become part of the social hierarchy. But there are signs that they might not be as normal as everyone else thinks they are. Harriet and Perdita share a gold painted seventh floor walkup with some talkative vegetation. And then there is the gingerbread they make, which is popular Harriet’s far away (or maybe nonexistent) land of her youth. Gretchen is the biggest fan of the Lee family gingerbread and she seems to have a hand in everything that has happened to Harriet since they met. Years later, Perdita sets out to find Gretchen and this prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story.

Book Cover: THE KINGDOM OF LITTLE WOUNDS

"THE KINGDOM OF LITTLE WOUNDS" by SUSANN COKAL

Also available as an e-book

The city of Skyggehavn are preparing for the Princess Sophia’s wedding day. Beneath this façade of joy and celebration lurks a hidden darkness. Things here are rarely has they seem. With the prick of a needle the fates of seamstress Ava and nursemaid Mide become entangled with that of the mad Queen Isabel. Against this backdrop, Ava and Mide manage to carve out their own survival any way they can.

Book Cover: STARDUST

"STARDUST" by NEIL GAIMAN

Available as both an e-book and an audiobook

  • From the pen of modern fairy tale author comes this enchanting tale of love. Tristan will do anything to win the love of cold, beautiful Victoria. After watching falling stars, Tristan vows to retrieve the falling star for her. He must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of an ancient wall. Beyond the wall, lies Faerie and the most exciting adventure any young man could have.

Book Cover: ANANSI BOYS

"ANANSI BOYS " by NEIL GAIMAN

Available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

Fat Charlie’s dad has a knack for naming things. When he names something, the name sticks, like Fat Charlie. Charlie can’t shake the name, one of the “gifts” his father left him before he died on a karaoke stage and ruined Charlie’s life. Because his father willed him things like a stranger who may be the brother he never knew, a brother who’s going to show Charlie to have a little fun. And suddenly, things  become very interesting.

Book Cover: AMERICAN GODS

"AMERICAN GODS" by NEIL GAIMAN

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

When Shadow is released from prison, he returns to the quiet town of Eagle Point, Indiana. All he wants is to be with his wife, Laura. Just days before his release, Shadow’s best friend is killed. Now at loose ends, Shadow accepts a job from Mr. Wednesday, a trickster and a rogue. Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than even Shadow knows about himself. This job will take Shadow on the most interesting and dangerous road trip that will introduce him to some of the most interesting and eccentric characters. Ultimately, Shadow will discover that beneath everyday life a storm is brewing and an epic war for the soul of America is about to break out.

Book Cover: NORSE MYTHOLOGY

"NORSE MYTHOLOGY" by NEIL GAIMAN

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

Staying true to the myths, Gaiman envisions the major gods in a novelistic retelling of the legendary world of the nine worlds. Delving into the exploits of the gods, dwarfs and giants, Gaiman explores the most heroic, funny and poignant myths in the Norse pantheon.

Book Cover: MY MOTHER SHE KILLED ME, MY FATHER HE ATE ME

"MY MOTHER SHE KILLED ME, MY FATHER HE ATE ME" by KATE BERNHEIMER

This anthology of short stories features writings by famous authors, including Francine Prose, Kelly Link and others, retelling fairy tales and adding their own twists. New stories created from the old, using not only traditional fairy tales and stories from greats like Italo Calvino and international fairy tales.

Book Cover: BOY, SNOW, BIRD

"BOY, SNOW, BIRD" by HELEN OYEYEMI

Also available as an e-book

Boy arrives by chance in a small town looking for beauty, the opposite of the life she’s left behind. She marries a local widower and becomes a stepmother to his daughter, Snow. Boy never imagined she’d become a wicked stepmother. Then Boy’s first daughter is born, Bird is dark skinned and Boy’s secret that she’s a light skinned African American passing for white comes out. Now separated, their estrangement is complicated by curiosity about each other. Seeking an understanding that different from the image that each present to the world, confronting the mirror and asking how much power surfaces really hold.

Book Cover: LIMITS OF ENCHANTMENT

"LIMITS OF ENCHANTMENT " by GRAHAM JOYCE

Everything Fern knows she’s learned from her Mammy. Learning to be a midwife at an early age, Fern grows up as Mammy’s assistant and learns that secrets are precious, men can’t be trusted, hippies are dirty and people should just mind their own business. When one of their patients seems to die from a potion Mammy prescribed to induce an abortion, the town rallies against her outdated methods and Mammy ends up in the hospital due to a bad fall and a broken heart. Threatened with eviction if Fern can’t come up with the overdue rent, Ferns struggles to save her home and Mammy’s good name. Everything seems to transform and Fern uncovers a legacy of magic.

Book Cover: WAKING THE MOON

"WAKING THE MOON" by ELIZABETH HAND

Sweeney is starting her freshman year at University of the Archangel and St. John. At the same time, a mysterious society notices omens that signal the goddess is about to reappear. Sweeny makes friends with the beautiful Angelica and eccentric Oliver and is swept up in the death of Oliver and the rebirth of the Goddess on earth. Twenty years later Sweeny, now working at a museum, meets Oliver and Angelica’s son, a nearly exact reincarnation of doomed Oliver. Sweeny falls head over heels in love and now is on a collision course with the Goddess incarnate in Angelica.

Book Cover: THE OXFORD COMPANION TO FAIRY TALES

"THE OXFORD COMPANION TO FAIRY TALES" by JACK ZIPES

Covering over 1,000 entries, this book covers all aspects of the Western Fairy Tale tradition. Editor Jack Zipes is a world scholar of fairy tales and folklore. It provides a reference source for the complicated and compelling genre, exploring the tales and the writers who have used them as the basis for other creative endeavors. It also covers artists who specialized in fairy tale illustrations, ballets, operas, television shows and movies using fairy tales as their inspiration. 

Book Cover: CIRCE

"CIRCE" by MADELINE MILLER

Available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

Circe is the daughter of the sun god Helios, but Circe was a strange child—not powerful, nor alluring. She turns to mortals for companionship and discovers that she does possess power, the power of witchcraft, the power to transform rivals and enemies into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, allowing her to hone her occult craft, taming wild beasts, and crossing paths with some of Ancient Greek heroes. But it’s also dangerous, and as a woman alone Circe unwittingly draws the anger of both men and gods. To protect what she loves from one of the most vengeful and terrifying gods sitting on Olympus she must choose whether she belongs with the gods or with the mortals she loves. Miller once again explores the world of Greek Myths as she did with her previous book “The Song of Achilles.”

Book Cover: UNBURY CAROL

"UNBURY CAROL" by JOSH MALERMAN

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

Carol Evers is a woman with a secret; she has died many times, but her deaths are not final. They are comas, indistinguishable from death. Only two people know her secret. Dwight who has married Carol for her money and when she falls into another coma, he plots to seize her wealth by having her declared dead and quickly burying her. The other person who knows is Carol’s lost love, James Moxie, who, upon hearing of her “death” rides out to save her from an early, unnatural grave.

Book Cover: THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR

"THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR " by SCOTT HAWKES

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

Carolyn isn’t so different from regular people. She likes guacamole and cigarettes. She knows how to work her phone and even though clothes are harder, everyone says nice things about her when she dons her gold bicycle shorts and Christmas sweater. She is, after all, a normal American too. She has been taken in by a man called the Father. She and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient and secret customs. They’ve studied the books in his library and learned the secrets of his power. Together they wonder if Father is really god. Now he’s gone missing and the library that holds his secrets is unguarded. Carolyn gathers the tools she will need for the battle to come against fierce competitors, all who have more power than she. Carolyn has a plan, though.

Book Cover: THE STARLESS SEA

"THE STARLESS SEA" by ERIN MORGENSTERN

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

Zachary is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the library stacks. Turning the pages, he is entranced by the tales of prisoners, collectors and acolytes. Then he reads something strange: A story from his childhood. Bewildered, Zachary unearths a series of clues: a bee, a key and a sword. These clues lead him to a secret club and a doorway to an ancient library.

Book Cover: STATION ELEVEN

"STATION ELEVEN" by EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack on stage during the production of “King Lear.” A child, Kirsten, watched with horror as Jeevan performs CPR, but Arthur is dead. That same night Jeevan walks home form the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread across the country and within weeks civilization has come to an end. Twenty years later, Kirsten travels between the settlements as a part of a troupe of actors and musicians. They are the Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping art and humanity alive. When they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who threatens the tiny band’s existence. Moving back and forth in turn, this novel depicts life before and after the pandemic and how a strange twist of fate connects them all.

Book Cover: THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE

"THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE " by NEIL GAIMAN

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

A middle aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. He visits the farm at the end of the road where he met an amazing girl, Lettie Hempstock. He hadn’t thought of her in ages and yet sitting near the pond, the unremembered past comes back. Earlier a man committed suicide in a stolen car at the same farm at the end of the road. His death resonates in many ways. The darkness his death unleashes something scary and unimaginable to a little boy. And Lettie promised to protect him no matter what.

Book Cover: SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE

"SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE " by GRAHAM JOYCE

Also available as an e-book

Twenty years ago Tara Martin disappeared from her small town. Her parents and her brother have lived in denial of the fact that Tara is gone for good. One Christmas Day, the doorbell rings and standing there is Tara. It’s a miracle, but alarm bells ring in Peter’s head. Tara’s story doesn’t add up and amazingly she barely looks a day older than when she disappeared. Is this really Tara or someone trying to capitalize on her disappearance?

Book Cover: THE NIGHT CIRCUS

"THE NIGHT CIRCUS" by ERIN MORGENSTERN

Also available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

The circus arrives without warning, it is simply there. Within the black and white striped tent is a unique experience full of amazement. But behind the scenes, a competition is underway; a duel between two young magicians who have been trained since childhood for this purpose. This game, unknown to them,  results in one magician left standing and this circus is the stage for the battle of imagination and will. However, these two young magicians fall into love, the deep magical love that only happens rarely. But the game must play out and the fates of everyone involved hang in the balance.

Book Cover: NEVERWHERE

"NEVERWHERE" by NEIL GAIMAN

Available as both an e-book and as an audiobook

Richard Mayhew is a young Londoner with a good heart whose life is changed forever when she stops to help a bleeding girl. This act of kindness plunges him into a world he never dreamed existed. Slipping through the cracks of reality Richard arrives in Neverwhere, a shadowy London, filled with darkness, monsters and saints existing in a subterranean otherworld. Neverhwere is the home of Door, the young girl Richard helped. Door is a powerful noblewoman who must find the evil agent of her family’s destruction and stop the destruction of Neverwhere.


Adults Books Reading Recommendations

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