Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Moon-Flash by Patricia A McKillip

by Patricia A. McKillip

I've enjoyed a lot of McKillip's stuff. She writes a beautiful fairy tale (or fantasy novel, if you prefer to call them that). And her style is eloquent and beautiful without overwhelming the story...I've really enjoyed lots of her books!

But this one? A cross-over into science fiction? Hmm....

At first I was pretty skeptical, and for good reason: the beginning is set in a primitive, simple place—which wouldn't be bad at all, normally, but since it's a sci-fi novel you know where it's going to lead: simple, happy people meet technology for the first time, and what do they think of it? etc. Been done many, many times.

But, as usual, she drew me in and took me places I wasn't expecting, and drew both truth and depth out of the story. By the end of the book, I had to admit I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hooray for McKillip!

Sorcery & Cecilia by Patricia C. Wrede AND Caroline Stevermer

Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

I LOVED this book. It was thoroughly fun from start to finish.

Jane Austen and sorcery? Yeah, it has been done before to some extent (like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell), but I liked this one better. It is entirely composed of correspondence between two ladies in Austen's England: one in London, and one in the country. And they have a very interesting time...

Really. If you like Jane Austen, and you don't mind a little bit of magic mixed in, this book is really too much fun to miss.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea
by Mark Dunn

This book is clever. Maybe too clever. Really so clever it verges on annoying. But that is because it's a story not so much about characters (which is what I generally prefer: strong characters), or even driven by plot. It's a story about an idea. So of course it's clever. And if you like plot and character and that sort of thing, you might just find it annoying.

Not to say that there isn't characterization or a plot—there is--but it takes a back seat to the idea. It reminded me a bit of stories about utopian societies gone awry—Animal Farm, 1984, Orwell stuff in general—but the main point of the story is what would happen if we were no longer able to use certain letters of the alphabet, and we kept losing them, one by one?

And it's actually an appealing idea to me. So I did enjoy the story. And Dunn must've had a great time writing this, especially when he was writing toward the end of the book and only had a handful of letters left that he could use. I almost think that it was more fun for him to write it than it was to read? Who knows. Guess it depends on the person reading it!

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel
by Baroness Orczy

I don't know entirely what I was expecting when I picked this up. Something similar to Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, perhaps? Or a little Les Miserables? What did I know about the Reign of Terror except what I've read in novels, anyhow?

What I was not expecting was a swash-buckling romance. (I've never seen any of the numerous "Scarlet Pimpernel" movies, of course. If I had, I probably would have known what was coming.)

It is a story about a larger-than-life hero. Reminded me a great deal of James Bond, in fact, with one huge difference: Bond is the generic male's fantasy of what the coolest guy on earth would be like; the Scarlet Pimpernel is the generic woman's fantasy of the world's most desirable man. (Honestly, the richest man in Europe, devastatingly handsome, cares about what he wears, impeccably polite, and completely hides it all from the world so he can be secretly the bravest and most daring man in the world? Come on! Complete and total fantasy!)

There are other parallels, too: the Pimp's alter-ego is a complete buffoon (Hmm...Clark Kent took a page from his book); the Pimp has a secret room in his home where he conducts all his pimpy business that is accessible only to his valet (Bruce Wayne was paying attention to this, no doubt, and also to the fact that oodles of money can be very handy when you are in the business of rescuing people). And so I have seen the birthplace of many modern heroes in this book. (Unless, of course, there is a hero who leads a double life before Orczy's novel? Probably...)

It was a fun read: Orczy knows how to build the suspense and build an entertaining story. If the romance was a trifle...well, unrealistic, and if the main protagonist, Margurite (she is the protagonist more than the Pimpernel, of course: we see everything through her eyes) who is described repeatedly as the "cleverest woman in Europe" often behaves like an idiot with wool for brains, well, it's still very entertaining and fun to read.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Napoli Overdose

So it's not really an overdose. But it should be. I mean, how much can you read by one author at one time? Should you read all of their works in a week's time? Probably not. But I did read a lot of Donna Jo Napoli over the last two weeks, and I'm not sick of her at all. Quite the opposite. I started with...


...a retelling of the Ugly Duckling. Set in Australia. Well, why not?

Her stuff is imaginative, researched, and thoughtful. What indeed would it take for a lone chick to survive in the wild? What would that bird think after being rejected by the only family he knew? How in the world would he discover who he really was?

Light reading, but so nice. The mother duck really was quite wonderful, and the little swan brave. And Napoli doesn't play down the harsh reality of life and survival in the wild, and the Australian critters were so interesting to read about.

Writing about it makes it seem kinda lame, but it really wasn't at all. Really. I especially loved the friends that he manages to make along the way. (Okay, now that really makes it seem lame, but it ISN'T, I promise!)

Since I'm just slaughtering this, let's move on to the next:

The Prince of the Pond series:

1. The Prince of the Pond
2. Jimmy, the Pickpocket of the Palace
3. Gracie, the Pixie of the Puddle

All three stories are short and sweet, but they have such life in them! What indeed happened to the frog prince while he was a frog? How difficult would it be for him to figure out how to be a frog? And would he do what all froggies do—swim, eat bugs, have a family? And would he try to do it like a frog, or like a man?

And then, after he becomes a prince again by the princess kissing him—then what? Would he miss his life in the pond? Or would the life in the pond miss him?

It was a good series, and surprisingly touching. The ending of the first two books were very bittersweet—and the ending of the third quite a bit happier, though a little bittersweet still.

I love how she researched everything in and out (lots of strange factoids about frogs in here) and literally had to think like a frog to be able to write about so many frogs. Thoughtful and honest. Yeah, I like Napoli.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Halloween Reads

Okay, no reason to re-invent the wheel. I already did this post over at my main blog, but I figured, why not put a link here, too? I mean, it's not like anyone ever sees this blog, so who cares, right?

I did finish Tamsin again, and, oh, I do love that book. What could be spookier than reading about The Wild Hunt when it's windy outside? Go, Peter S. Beagle!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

The Light Fantastic
by Terry Pratchett

I love Pratchett. I have read many of his books by now (all in the Discworld series, I think), and I never cease to be amazed by his ability to write something completely and utterly silly, and, at the same time, that can carry so much satire and commentary on today's world. Seriously.

This is one of the earliest books in the Discworld series—the second book, perhaps?—with the marvelous characters of the inept wizard Rincewind and the irrepressible tourist Twoflower (who teaches Death to play bridge), and of course, Cohen the Aged Barbarian.

I will be reading Pratchett forever. I love this guy.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

by Neil Gaiman

This is not the first book I've read by this author. I tried Coraline a few years ago and really didn't care for it. (My main complaint was although the story was very imaginative, the characterization was...I can't quite remember if I could call it "weak," all I remember is that I could've cared less what happened to the characters. A huge flaw for a reader like me, who primarily reads for the characterization.) I've also read Good Omens (written by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett), and I liked that book a great deal, but I attributed that to Pratchett.

But I'll take it back. I really liked this book. It may have something to do with my penchant for fairy tales and how I'm always searching for authors to write new fairy tales for me. And the fact that this was a brilliant fairy tale, very imaginative and beautiful. I loved the three old witches in the wood; the brothers killing each other off for the crown; the woman enchanted to be a bird; the fallen star. And even the bits of humor and wisdom that got thrown in...very nice read.

The ending, however, was a little anti-climatic. When the witch finally meets the star, I was expecting some kind of a showdown, not just a conversation. It works with the story, of course, and it is a nice ending, but it didn't end with a bang. Not that all books have to, of course, but it left me feeling like I had just watched another Hayao Miyazaki film where so much could have been built up to some incredible climax, but he always sidesteps the big boom, and everyone ends up friends at the end, warm fuzzies all around...

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J. K. Rowling

This was a re-read, of course, as I was warming up for Book 7. This has been one of my favorites of the series (so far; and I have to say I enjoyed Book 3 just as well). As I finished it this time, I was mostly left with questions and anticipations about Book the Last. Snape is definitely playing a double game—but for which side, and what is he aiming for? How will it end? Who will die? Will Draco experience a change of heart and help Harry by the end? How will the book go with no Hogwarts as a backdrop? Then there are the general romantic questions—like who will Luna end up with? Gwarp?

And is it really going to end? What if I don't want it to?

One thing about this book that I was very glad to see: Dumbledore is dead. Now, don't get me wrong; it's not that I don't love Dumbledore, and I am the type to cry over a book, so I definitely did at the end; it's just that I was getting tired of him rescuing Harry. He made exceptions, broke rules, explained away problems...and I like Harry, too, but for heaven's sake, I want to see him stand on his own! (Another reason to look forward to Book 7 to see what Rowling does...)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by J. K. Rowling

I can't believe it's over.

But there it is: it's over. Now what? Oh yeah, time to go read Eclipse with the rest of the Edward/Jacob junkies.

The nice thing about this book was that Harry really comes into his own. By the end, he's really...well, matured. He's come a ways from the nasty bitter snot that I hated in book 5 who attempted Unforgiveable Curses...

And sure, there are holes in the plot and in the overall structure of the seven books, but really, who cares? Rowling put 17 years of sweat and tears into this, and I'm grateful to her for it. I thought it was a great ending. It worked for me.

And I don't want to put any spoilers in, so I'll just say that the last bit of the book was a pretty suspenseful read. Hard to put the book down to eat or sleep or take care of my poor kid. (Lucky for him, I finished the book in...two days? Or was it three?)

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Slew of Things

Just because I have been busy lately doesn't mean I haven't been reading. Actually, it is hard to imagine a life in which I wouldn't be reading. I suppose it would be a life in which my eyes were gouged out, my eardrums burst and consequently, my hearing was lost (so I could not listen to books on tape), and my fingertips have fallen off (because in the case of the first two events, I would have learned Braille). And my toes and tongue, for that matter. In other words, it would never happen.

So. I have been reading. And here they are:

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

by Donna Jo Napoli

I just finished this one a mere twenty minutes ago. I love this author!
This was a retelling of the story of Rapunzel. There were no real twists or clever takes on anything, just brilliant storytelling. (When I first read Napoli, I found her style rather...sparse, simple. Ha! She is graceful with her words, and chooses them carefully. That is all.)

Zel and her Mother, the witch, are so wonderfully characterized and crafted, and as always, Napoli blesses them both after their pain and madness with a touch of redemption...wonderful, wonderful!

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman

This has been a favorite for a long time, since I first discovered it in college. I have to reread it every few years or so because it is a very funny book, and insightful. I love Catherine's character, I love how the story is told, and I love, love, love how she gets rid of her would-be suitors. Hooray for spunky women in books!

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown

I did enjoy reading this book; I enjoyed all the history, the religion, the "reveals." The action was okay, but I wouldn't have read this book for just the action. (Brown is really kind of a hack when it comes to that sort of thing--his characters offer nothing in particular, the action is pretty run-of-the-mill--it's the information that gets me.)

Not that most of the information was new to me. For pity's sake, I took a senior course in college entitled "Arthurian Legends" so of course the Grail was covered, and the professor told us about most of the stuff that was in here: how the quest for the Grail was really a quest for Christ's bloodline; what the Knights Templar were really up to; how the Catholic church perpetuated sexism and why; symbolism up the yin yang. (Especially symbolism. I wrote a twenty-page paper just on archetypal numbers in Arthurian legend, so of course the pentagram came up.)

And of course, it leaves me wondering just how much of this book is based upon solid research, and how much is Brown's fancy, but it still opens up all kinds of possibilities to me. It was cool for me to get his perspective on the Nicean council, for example. But how much of it is true? I almost wonder enough to actually go research it. Almost.

And the thing that bothers me the most: Brown can take the plunge to consider that Christ was married, that he had at least one child, that he was a feminist. But how can being married and having a child prove that you are not divine? Brown was very clear in proving everything else, so how could he leave that one fallacy unexplored and untested, making some assumption on some belief of the old Catholic church somewhere: sex is evil, and having children makes you mortal? Ridiculous, considering the rest of the book. Oh well.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted
by Gail Carson Levine

If you have not read the book, but you have seen the movie, I am so, so sorry. That movie was an absolute travesty. Really, really dumb.

But the book is wonderful. Yet another retelling of a fairy tale (yes, I know, I read a lot of those), this one of Cinderella. Like Catherine, Called Birdy it is witty and enjoyable, and Ella has some real spunk. Like the Goose Girl, it's all about girl-power, and in the end, it's Ella who saves her prince. And she breaks her own curse, of course. And it is a little silly, too, but if it weren't, would it be so much fun?

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
Stephanie Barron

A friend sent me this one. (Thanks, Marie!) And it is a very entertaining read. Jane Austen as Columbo. Can you imagine the possibilities? Of course, I love Jane Austen, and a good mystery is always entertaining.

And that's it for now. Next up: Terry Pratchett. Can't wait!

Monday, April 30, 2007


Lately I've been in a rereading phase. Apparently my brain can't handle the stimulus of something new, so I've been revisiting some books I've enjoyed in the past. And here they come:

The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale

I just finished this again, and enjoyed it just as much the second time.

I'm always on the quest for a good fairy tale. I don't know why, but I've always found them appealing. I have...I don't know how many collections of fairy tales sitting around the house, and I like them. Princes, princesses, mistaken identities, magical items, quests, impossible tasks—it seems so juvenile to say it all aloud, but I still like it. I like the truth hiding in them, the symbolism that I don't have to look for or even think about—it's just there, and let my subconscious root through it if it really wants to—I'm just looking for story. And better yet, there are always missing bits of story in fairy tales. You are told that the prince must knock three times on the gold door with the glass key, but not why. That sleeping beauty won't die, merely sleep for a hundred years, but is one hundred an arbitrary number, or is there a reason behind it? Why seven dwarves, and not eight? I like to imagine my own whys...

Back to this particular book—the Goose Girl. It is a retelling of the Brothers' Grimm fairy tale of the same name. (If you want the plot rundown of the original fairy tale, this is one place you could look.)

My favorite thing about this particular retelling is that she isn't being rescued by anyone, which is modified from the Grimm version. (Hooray for a strong female character!) She starts off pretty helpless, sure, and there's a prince who does want to help her and protect her, but in the end, she ends up saving him. I love it that she grows up, gains a world of confidence, and ends up rescuing herself from a hopeless situation, and all in under 400 pages.

My slight disappointment about this book: It doesn't seem to go quite...deep...enough; the characters don't quite ring true to me; for such a tense situation the characterization is just a wee bit on the light 'n' fluffy side (and actually, this might be a plus to a lot of people—I don't know). After all the tension is over, the heroine is enjoying a moment to herself after a bath—a real bath, after all that she's been through!—and she is finally, after months and months, safe and at peace. At that point, I was expecting her to break down since she was finally in a position safe enough to do so. Y'know, like any real person would have done who had been through all the trauma she had...instead, she's hangin' out with a friend, making jokes, sipping grape juice. Whatever. It felt too emotionally easy to me, but then, I'm a freak. And it's such a small flaw.

But now my appetite for fairy tales is whetted.... More, more, more! There are an absolute ton of retellings out there these days, and here are a few that I have found and liked:
  • The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli (retelling of "Hansel and Gretel" from the witch's point of view)
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley (retelling of "Donkeyskin"—Warning: this one is emotionally difficult, which is why it's sooo good)
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (retelling of "Cinderella")
  • Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison (retelling of "Cinderella" from the mirror's point of view)
  • Enchantment by Orson Scott Card (retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" with a modern twist, sort of)
  • I, Coriander by Sally Gardner (retelling of "Cinderella" yet again)
Plenty of the above authors, especially the first two, have a ton more fairy tale retellings. I just mentioned my favorite (that I have read so far) from each author.

Also, if you're not interested in a retelling, but would like to read some fairy tales that are a bit more fresh:
  • Nearly anything by the fantasy author Patricia A. McKillip. She's caught the essence of fairy tale in nearly every book she's written, but my favorite is The Forests of Serre
  • George MacDonald has got quite a few, my favorite being The Light Princess
If you know of some more, please let me know! I need something fresh...

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Note: This was originally posted over at the book club blog, so just in case you want to see it in it's original context, here you go.

I just finished my re-reading of this book, and I now have a new perspective on it.

I have a bone to pick.

It isn’t with the book—it was actually executed perfectly and achieved exactly what it intended to for the audience it was written for—but rather with our culture that perpetuates this sort of…well…

Let me start by saying the first time I read it, I couldn’t put it down and finished it quickly. The tension was grand and I had to know what happened next. As soon as I was done with it, I picked it up again and re-read some favorite bits. I was obsessed. I read it so quickly I didn’t have the time to be annoyed with anything. And it was so gratifying—so satisfying—to see a person so infatuated with another and have the infatuation equally returned. Exciting read.

And Marie, I completely agree with you about the sex thing—how refreshing was that to have some characters try restraint for a change? Nice touch.

But now that I have read it again, and the bloom of that first rush is over…well, there was one thing that really bothered me, and then there is that bone I mentioned.

The first thing: Edward. Of course he is ridiculous as a real person, but it’s all okay because, after all, he’s not a real person, he is a vampire. I’m fine with the fact that he sparkles, that he smells wonderful, that he can read minds. I can even accept that when he sneaks into her bedroom at night to watch her sleep, this is considered sweet instead of downright creepy. What I can’t handle is how much he “took care” of Bella. I’m not talking about him saving her life—that’s all hunky-dory—and it’s great that he makes her feel so safe, even when he’s tempted to eat her. I like that. But it’s when she says something like “put me down” or “I can walk” or even “please, Eddie, I can feed myself, that’s why I have hands”, and he ignores it, and forces her to do what he thinks is best for her own good/to keep her safe/whatever. That I don’t like. No one needs to be rescued all the time, and if someone insists on rescuing you from little things that you don’t need rescuing from at all—well, it’s demeaning. It promotes helplessness. Why didn’t Bella feel like a useless twit by the end of the novel? Drove me crazy. Enough about that, though.

The big bone, the bone that really has more to do with our culture than with this book, is this: What is the difference between infatuation and love? I think that pop culture confuses the two. Of course it does. But—how do I begin?

I don’t believe in “love at first sight.” Infatuation at first sight? Oh, yeah: that instant rush of attraction, the high of meeting someone new and finding much of yourself, your interests, your values being reflected out of them and back into yourself, and the anticipation of getting to know them better and experiencing more of the same. Yes. And infatuation often leads a couple into the more mature relationship of love. (This is how I see it, anyway.)

What I am opposed to is how pop culture confuses the two, and how the addicting rush that goes with infatuation is labeled “romance.” The problem is infatuation ALWAYS dies, without exception, and if you’ve gotten lucky, love takes its place: a feeling much less heady, but more hardy. Infatuation brings two together, but love is what keeps them, seals them, brings the two into one. Love is caring about another more than yourself, whereas infatuation is powered by self-love: being able to see reflections of yourself in another.

Okay. I did my best to explain my views—have no idea if it makes sense, but oh well—time to move onward. This book is saturated with infatuation and the rush that goes with it. (Ooo…it’s so romantic!) Positively dripping. I was looking at some of the responses to the book, and noticed that more than one person (myself included) used words like “obsessed” “addicting” “fascinating” and “rush” when describing this book. We're all obsessed because it's about obsession. And that's fine, as far as it goes.

It bothers me, not because I think that Bella and Edward aren’t going to arrive at love (because of course they will—with such a strong foundation of sacrifice and restraint, they’ll be just fine), but because I’m afraid the author won't let them. What if she believes, deep in her romantic heart, that infatuation should always last? What if she has bought into pop culture's stupidity about "romance?" And because she is the author, and she can do what she likes, she makes it so that they are always stuck in infatuation? (Two teenagers, together forever, absorbed in each other to an unhealthy degree for eternity. Ugh. If a vampire truly is damned for eternity as Edward believes, is there a better way to damn him then to be eternally infatuated with your food?)

I’m bothered because when it comes to love, I don’t want a fantasy. I want the real thing. I want a relationship with real intimacy (meaning really knowing each other, all the good and the bad, getting absolutely sick of each other and still loving each other—reality, you know?) and there is no evidence in this book that these two are at that point, or that the author will ever let them get to that point until she puts down her pen (or stops typing, as the case may be). And
I feel cheated.

And...this is too long and too much about the baggage inside my head rather than the book. My apologies.

And this doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop reading the series. Heavens, no. It’s a guilty pleasure, like eating an entire bag of Hershey’s miniatures in one sitting (when Jeff isn’t looking, of course) because even though I know it’s not good for me, I just can’t STOP.