Publisher: Create Space (April 16, 2014)
Category: Fantasy, Magic, Fairytale
Tour Date: October, 2014
Available in: Print & ebook, 180 Pages
“When you die, your spirit wakes in the north, in the City of the Dead. There, you wander the cold until one of your living loved ones finds you, says “Goodbye,” and Sends you to the next world.
After her parents die, 12-year-old Sophie refuses to release their spirits. Instead, she resolves to travel to the City of the Dead to bring her mother and father’s spirits back home with her.
Taking the long pilgrimage north with her gruff & distant grandmother—by train, by foot, by boat; over ruined mountains and plains and oceans—Sophie struggles to return what death stole from her. Yet the journey offers her many hard, unexpected lessons—what to hold on to, when to let go, and who she must truly bring back to life.”
Sophie's parents have died, leaving her an orphan. Even more importantly, leaving her the only one who can release their spirit from the City of the Dead. When a person dies, their loved one must send them on to the next world by making a gruesome and dangerous journey north and up a mountain to the City of the Dead in order to say 'Goodbye' and release their spirit. Sophie has every intention of going to the City, but not saying goodbye, she wants to tell her parents to come right back where they came from. When her parents die, Sophie is taken in by her distant and seemingly harsh grandmother, who is not going to make it easy on Sophie to get what she wants.
From the introduction, I felt intrigued by the City of the Dead. Then when we meet Sophie, I was even more interested. Sophie is smart, daring and willing to learn. Without the blurb I couldn't quite place Sophie's age, at times she seemed much younger than her 12 years and at times older. However, this is a journey where Sophie grows up and learns valuable life lessons about grief, friendship, and saying goodbye. This short story is told in a fairytale style with third-person narration that let me be able to imagine the trials and tribulations of Sophie's journey that included a train, bus, boat, vans and mountains as well as the mysterious City of the Dead. I was glad that unlike many traditional fairytales, Sophie is the hero of her own story.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
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Craig Staufenberg is a writer and filmmaker living in NYC.
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Sophie woke at the table the next day before the sun rose and let habit
and obligation drag her from her seat and pull her to the bakery. Setting
her body in front of the floured marble table and searching her chest,
she found a hole where her heart used to beat, and when she dove into this
abyss she felt something close to cold, but far from feeling itself.
That morning her dough would barely budge when she touched it and the
loaves she handled wouldn’t rise an inch and the bread she placed in the oven
left their fires cold and flat and dead no matter how long they spent among
The baker saw this and responded to her as if she were a stubborn slab
of dough. She pressed patiently and consistently and with constant motion,
asking Sophie this and that, pushing and pulling at her, all without mentioning
her failures, without forcing a point, yet unrelenting and unwilling to toss her
to the side.
simple, mundane tasks built up and tore through her. Her frustration broke as
she pulled a final frozen lump from the fired oven and a small tear arrived in
her eye as she held the uncooked dough in front of her chest.
The baker stepped over to her and took the dough from Sophie and placed
it on the table with a thud. She admonished Sophie, without any hint of anger
or malice, “Cry if you need to, but don’t cry into the bread.”
Sophie stood there, that single tear still caught within her eye, her arms and hands still held up in front of her. The baker took each of Sophie’s raised,
empty arms, one at a time, and placed them down at her sides. She took one
of her own weathered hands and guided Sophie to the table and pulled up a
stool and motioned to Sophie to sit. Sophie set her elbows down on the floured
marble table and leaned across its surface.
The tear finally fell from her eye and dropped down onto the table,
creating a little wet crater in the flour that lay sifted across the top of the
marble table. The baker reached out a thumb and smudged the crater across
and smiled to herself, then went to the front of the shop and picked up a
small olive loaf from the day-old bin. She held it in one of her hands and
opened the oven door with the other and let a whiff of the blasting hot air
spill out and wash over Sophie. The baker commanded her, “Take out some
butter, if you would.”
The baker reached her hand into the oven and held the loaf above the
flames for a moment as Sophie walked to the side counter and pulled out
the pan of thick yellow butter that sat there. She brought it to the table and
returned to her seat.
The baker left the oven door open, warming the room. She pulled up
another stool and sat next to her and placed the now-steaming loaf down. The
woman tore off a chunk and slathered it with the rich butter, which melted
on contact and found its way into the bread’s hidden corners. She handed
the bread to Sophie, then she tore off and buttered a second hunk for herself.
Sophie took a bite of the bread, and that bite sank into her. The half-stale
loaf crunched in her mouth and the butter pressed through her body as surely
as it soaked through the bread.
As they ate for a moment in silence, the baker continued to pull off pieces
of the bread and butter them, handing one to Sophie first then taking one
for herself. She ate in silence as the dry heat of the oven filled the back of
the shop, until Sophie broke the quiet and spoke first. She apologized for her
The baker nodded her response. “It’s alright. I had a lot of bad days too
when my parents died.”
Sophie looked over at the sturdy woman with surprised eyes and asked
when the woman’s parents had passed.
The baker replied with a soft smile, “Some time ago. I was a little older than
you but I was baking by that point… and for a long time my bread wouldn’t
The baker deepened her smile as she lifted her hunk of bread into the
air and inspected it for a moment, then took a bite and continued as she
swallowed, “Clearly it was a temporary problem.”
Sophie couldn’t stop herself from laughing. She asked the woman what
fixed her troubles.
The baker thought for a moment. “Time.” She placed her elbow on the
table and scratched at her cheek. “As the days passed I found myself again.”
She paused, her finger rested against her cheek. “But my bread wasn’t this
good again until I went north and Sent them.”
Sophie looked over and was about to speak but the baker stood up and cut
her off firmly. “Come. We need to open the shop.”
The baker gathered the few loaves she managed to salvage from Sophie’s
empty heart and sighed out loud, “Here’s hoping for a slow day…”
She smiled then pushed her to clean the oven, as she always did, and from
there the afternoon proceeded as it always had. Sophie took on her chosen
chores, straightening the shop, cleaning, organizing and restoring order as
the baker took her seat at the counter where her customers purchased their
bread. When her grandmother arrived, Sophie avoided her gaze. Aside from a
lingering moment when the baker stepped to the desk and spoke for a moment
longer than usual to the old woman, the day proceeded as it always had, right
until the sun began to set and the baker asked Sophie and her grandmother
to come to the counter to receive their day’s wages.
The old woman placed her payment in her purse, and as she stood for
a moment to wait for her granddaughter to receive hers, the baker told the
wrinkled woman, “I need to speak with Sophie for a minute longer, you don’t
need to wait for her.”
The old woman nodded and said goodbye and left through the shop’s
swinging doors as the baker asked Sophie to stand there for a moment. She
held still and watched as the woman came out from behind her counter and
walked through the shop, examining the little touches Sophie added to it
throughout the afternoon. The baker inspected the organized loaves and gave
a small approving nod, then examined the swept floor and made a minor
appreciative grunt, then noted the neatly stacked bags of flour with a lingering
look, before she returned to the counter and opened her drawer and began to
count out Sophie’s wages. As she did, the woman spoke to herself, loud enough
for Sophie to hear, “Let’s see…”
The baker set down Sophie’s usual wages. Sophie thanked her and reached for the bills lying there. The baker stopped her hand and spoke, without looking
up, “The shop looks better than ever lately.”
She turned her eyes to Sophie. “You’ve been working a little later than
necessary for some time now.”
Sophie looked at her feet, embarrassed, as the baker pulled some paper
and a pencil from beneath the counter and set them down and continued, “I
used to hire someone to tidy up the shop as you’ve been doing. I can’t quite
remember what I used to pay them.”
The baker marked a few calculations onto the paper and reached into the
cash drawer and placed a few extra bills on top of Sophie’s normal wages and
looked down at her paper.
“That doesn’t seem right. You’ve been working late every single day for
some time now… Let me check the math again. Oh, I shouldn’t have let your
grandmother off, she’s better with the numbers than I am.”
The baker made a few more marks on the paper, performing some simple
math, adding up the days and Sophie’s extra wages, reaching into the drawer
and pulling out more money and placing it on the counter, before checking her
math again and pulling out more and adding it to the growing pile, speaking
loudly and absent-mindedly the whole time.
“This afternoon your grandmother told me she plans on heading north
soon, and that she’ll be gone for some time.”
The baker looked casually at Sophie. “It’s to be expected, of course.
She never said so but she adored that man.” The baker looked back down.
“Though now I’ll have to find someone else to take care of the books for me.”
She placed more money on the counter. “As I said, I’m not very good
She returned to her paper, then scanned the neatly ordered shop, then
added even more money to Sophie’s thick pile. The woman looked back down
and spoke some more to herself.
“I’ll have to find someone to help me with the oven and the store too, while
you are traveling with her.”
Sophie’s heart returned to her chest for a moment, before rising and
getting caught in her throat as she looked at the thick stack of money on
The baker rolled her eyes up at Sophie with lightly arched eyebrows.
“Though only temporary help, of course… as you’ll resume working here
when you return…”
Sophie nodded yes, yes, yes. The baker sat back in her chair and pushed
the money towards her.
“And I’m sure if my math was wrong and I’ve overpaid you now, then you’ll
work the remainder off when you return.”
Sophie pressed her heart down her throat and back into her chest and
released a soft, “Of course.”