Posts Tagged With: 2016 Reading Challenge

A Reading Challenge Wrap

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The year is feeling old, old, and I am looking at all the posts I need to post to wrap up the end of this year.  The season of introspection is upon us.  Let’s dive head in.

I would like to all remind you of a reading challenge I accepted last January.  Here is the original post so you can refresh your memory: https://caseykins.com/2016/01/15/a-reading-challenge/.  I read all books but one and then gave up completely.  Why, you ask?  The one I didn’t read is a classic I never made time for.  It’s because I pondered a million classics and none of them seemed to be something I wanted to delve into.  I have made time for all the classics I care about, and slogging through something I was sure would be depressing just seemed like too tall an order. I don’t know.  I stopped enjoying the challenge when I thought too much about it, so I decided that reading should not ever be anything except enjoying and I gave up.

All other books, though, I have blogged and completed.  You can find the reviews for them using the search box on the left, if you want.

Here is what I ended up with:

  • A book you bought long ago, but still haven’t read – The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black
  • A book with a character who is similar to you – Emily Climbs, by L. M. Montgomery
  • A non-fiction book on something you’ve always wanted to know more about – Steering The Craft, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • A book by a female author – Lizzy and Jane, by Katherine Reay
  • A book you never got to read in 2015 – The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck
  • A book that will be a complete mindfuck – Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman
  • A book filled to the rim with magic – Daughter of Witches, Patricia C. Wrede
  • A book you’re scared to read when it’s dark out – The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A book of which you liked the movie, but haven’t read the novel – Pitch Perfect, by Mickey Rapkin
  • A book that makes you want to visit the place it’s set – Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A book that’s on fire – Mine Till Midnight, by Lisa Kleypas
  • A book that makes you want to be a villain – Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman
  • A classic you never made time for – Never Read (I’m a delinquent)
  • A book that shows a different point of view – Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, by Peggy Orenstein
  • A book with short stories – A Knot In The Grain, by Robin McKinley
  • A book that involves a lot of mystery – The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A book about a person who inspires you – My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, by Dick Van Dyke
  • A book that makes you want to be a hero – The Sword of Damar, by Robin McKinley
  • A graphic novel – The Graveyard Book part 1, by Neil Gaiman
  • A book of poetry – Good Poems, American Places, by Garrison Keillor
  • A book by an unfamiliar author – Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowel
  • A book published in 2016 – The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A book with a dark and mysterious cover – Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
  • A book from a random recommendationalist – Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell
  • A book with a surprising love element – Shakespeare’s Wife, by Germaine Grier
  • A book with lots of mystical creatures – English Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs
  • A book that reminds you of another season – Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
  • A book no one wants you to read – My American Duchess, by Eloisa James
  • A book you own that is the most beautiful thing you’ve seen – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Illustrated Edition, by J. K. Rowling
  • A book that makes you a complete mess – Emily’s Quest, by L. M. Montgomery
  • A book you started but never finished – Aspects of the Novel, by E. M. Forster

In other Christmas news, I was feeling grateful yesterday that the kitten has never tried to climb the tree.  And then I came home last night to find that she had pulled several of my favorites off the branches and had strewn them around the living room.  Luckily they weren’t the ones with extreme sentimental value, and only one was worse for the wear, but I’m seriously going to have to think about anti-cat measures.  Chasing her away only works when I’m at home to supervise.  Jennyanydots: the reason we can’t have nice things.

Christmas jam is probably in the works this weekend, too.  I’m giving it out as presents this year, so that’s all I’ll say.  Flavors a tasty, tasty mystery.

We are racing toward the finish line.  I hope your season is looking as festive as mine is.

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Book Review: Witches of Lychford

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I am charging along on the reading challenge.  As of today, I’m 11 books ahead and pretty proud of myself, though I still have about 7 to read from the list.  I discovered, thanks to Tor, an amazing book called Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell.  It is glorious in its absurdity and also heartbreaking at times.

The basic premise is that a big-box store wants to open on the town borders, straddling the line and changing the roads.  Where local crank Judith didn’t care about all of that before the location was announced, she now knows that building the superstore like that will cause the wardings on the town to fail, literally letting in a host of hellish demons.  The company representative seems to be one of them.

Judith has to band together with the faithless priest and the unbelieving magic shop owner to stop the nefarious plot to build the market.  All three of the women are dealing with their own issues around life and death, having to work through them to save the town.

Such a great premise, right?  And it mostly lives up to its promise as a traditional fae/forest/witchcraft fantasy set in untraditional times.  The only issue I had with it was its shortness.  It’s a novella, and it didn’t need to be.  There is meatiness there for a full-length story.

In class, I was taught that novellas typically only had one story line to them, because it was too hard to wrap up multiple story lines in under 50,000 words without the reader feeling cheated.  This book shows the truth of that.  3 different story lines for the 3 different characters, and none but Judith’s felt like it was fully satisfying.  That being said, it was still a fun, quick, romp.  I would heartily recommend. If the worst criticism I have of a book is that I wish there were more of it, it’s doing pretty well.

Plus bonus points because it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.  Happy reading!

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Book Review: Little Women

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The last time I tried reading Little Women I couldn’t do it.  I found that I had memorized so much of it that it no longer operated like a book in my mind.  When I read, the scenes play as if they’re a movie.  Memorization = no movie = bad reading experience.

But I loved that book so much in high school.  I couldn’t even exactly say why, but just that it seemed so perfect.  I wanted the little shabby house, four sisters to romp with, and a neighbor like Laurie to pet and tease and wheedle.  I wanted a mother as supernaturally wise as Marmee is to just make most of the decisions for me.

Back then I identified mostly with Amy.  She’ll do anything to be liked, has a heck of a temper while still being hilarious (especially in her misuse of the English language), and gets into the funniest scrapes.  Like the time she tried to cast her foot in plaster and it hardened too soon.  So she just had a bucket stuck on her foot until Jo could stop laughing long enough to cut her out again.  There’s also the clothespin she uses to re-shape her nose (I never liked mine, either), and the weird dress up box she gets into at Aunt March’s.  They hand over the sugar bowl to her whenever she gets cross.  She cries over her math homework.  I mean, Amy’s truly my patronus.  Or was.

I decided to read Little Women again for a couple of reasons.  The first was that people were saying a lot of things online about it, and I wanted to read it with a more careful and critical eye.  The second was because I thought it would do for the 2016 reading challenge.  The book doesn’t remind me of Christmas as much as it probably should (yeah, it starts at Christmas, but 90% of the book is another season).  But it does remind me heavily of another season in my life.  Besides, it’s probably been ten years since I’ve tried it.

I am here to report that it’s better than you remembered it.  No, really.  That’s a possible thing.

Or at least it was better than I remembered it.  And I think this is why:  It talks frankly about poverty, shows it in a cheery if sometimes inconvenient light, and doesn’t give false hope.

I couldn’t have put it into words before now, but I’m awfully mad at American society under general principals.  It 100% isn’t true at all anymore that if you work hard enough you will be able to achieve the American Dream (if it ever was), and yet you are told a thousand times over that it’s the truth.  I’m of a generation who is tens of thousands of dollars in debt, has come of age during the WORST financial crisis seen in 80 years, often works multiple jobs to make ends meet, and yet is still called lazy because they are treading water in financial insecurity.  I’ve worked those multiple jobs myself.  Hell, I’m currently working one job with what  would be considered a middle class salary and I’m driving a jalopy and worrying about the grocery bill.

And I’ll be honest: my job is not what I thought it would be when I was 15.  I don’t hate it, certainly, but it’s not one of those “never work a day in your life” jobs.  It’s fine, I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing it well, and all the bills eventually get paid.  But I feel like  I at least deserve financial security if I am working that hard.

And then I crack open a page on the March girls.  And there is catharsis.

I found myself much more a Meg this time around.  She works as a governess for a couple of spoiled children and doesn’t like it, but it pays the bills.  She has to continually watch the older son blow fortunes on vices, money that they throw away but that would make a sea-change worth of help to her poor family.  She hangs out with Sallie Gardner and Annie Moffat who also have heaps more means that she does, and she must continually deny herself the trinkets and things they purchase without thinking. (See: my entire Chapman experience).  She’s always fussing with her wardrobe to make it nice, has terrible yet hilarious domestic trails after she gets married (oh, the sticky, jam covered kitchen), and has a rough transition to living with John Brooke and making the marriage work.  But in the end there is heaps of love and she is rewarded with a too-tiny yet cozy home they rule together, which Laurie dubs the Dovecote.

There is no “deserve” in this book. There are only choices and trials for all the girls.  The reward for their work is a better character and a good relationship with the people they love.  With some harmless, romping fun in between to break up the monotony, of course.  There is no promise that hard work = security in anything but secure relationships.  There is no expectation that any of the girls will find their “calling” and work at something they enjoy, or that work will ever be a pleasant thing.  There is only pride in pitching in to help and in a job well done.

I realized that I’d do better to take some of those ideas and start trying to live them.  So there I am again, in the same place I was 20 years ago: trying to use this book as a roadmap for life.

I guess some things never change.

Now excuse me while I go read Meg’s marriage scene again.

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Book Reviews: Neverwhere and A Knot In The Grain

I’m posting a few more book reviews this week even though they’re horribly late.  It’s been a doozy of a weekend, although I’m not 100% sure why I feel that way.  I don’t always get a Thursday entry in, but I ALWAYS get a Monday one and I didn’t this week…

But I will get this Tuesday one done if it kills me (I mean, it won’t kill me…).

I’m charging along on the old 2016 reading challenge.  Out of 32 books, I only have 13 left to read. And we haven’t even hit the middle of the year yet.  Here are two I haven’t blogged: A book of short stories, and a book with a dark and mysterious cover.

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A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley (a book of short stories):

As I’ve said on the blog before, I’m not usually a fan of short stories.  I picked this one up, though, because it was Robin McKinley and it was free on Kindle Unlimited (thanks mom!).  It’s comprised of five tales, and honestly I think it’s arranged from worst to best.  The first 4 stories take place in this odd fairy tale world that feels like Grimm but actually contains happy endings, or at least contented ones.  My favorite of the first 4 tales was Buttercups, and I think it was definitely worth the purchase price.  While I didn’t exactly enjoy the other stories, I did find myself thinking about them between times, which I think is a sign of good stuff.

The story the book is named after, though… oh man.  I wish it were a whole novel.  It takes place in a modern setting where a high school girl moves to a new home and finds a strange box in an attic.  I don’t know how McKinley captures real life so well, but she really does mundanity so that you want to live it.  This is the sort of thing that makes McKinley one of my favorites.

I enjoyed the book quite a lot, and would recommend it.  Especially to fans of McKinley’s other stuff.

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (a book with a dark and mysterious cover):

I don’t even really know where to start with this one.  It’s a re-read for me and I liked it less the second time around.  Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like it.  I don’t know, it’s hard to pinpoint.

Richard Mayhew, average executive in dubious relationship, stumbles on a bleeding girl while on his way to dinner.  He helps her, and then finds that no one recognizes him anymore.  He now belongs to an alternate city below the London he knows: London Below, and must go on a perilous journey to get back to his home.  If that’s what he really wants, that is.  It’s filled with creepy Rat Speakers, A Huntress, vampiresses, the Lady Door, and evil Angel, a dreadful prehistoric beast, and sadistic Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandermar.

It’s definitely well-written and such a cool idea.  Gaiman comes up with all sorts of interesting things for the defunct names of London past.  Like the Earl in Earl’s Court who has set up a medieval home on the tube.  Or the Shepherds in Shepherd’s Bush that you really don’t want to meet.

It’s great.  It’s cool.  It’s creepy. It’s everything you could want from a Gaiman story.  But is it missing a bit of emotion?

I guess I wished on the second time around that I felt more affection for Door and for Richard than I ended up feeling.  But seriously, go read it.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Heroes and Villains

Camp Nanowrimo is going well-ish.  My word count has exploded, but the point was to write 4 whole short stories (and not 50,000 words), so I’m feeling a little behind.  The Golden Apple story went like gang-busters for a while but seems to have stalled out.  Brian and I discussed it this weekend, and I think it’s because the About is more in line with WWII than the Great War, and so it doesn’t quite fit.  Also, needs more Greek Gods (which could be said of everything, really).

I swore to myself that I would actually post a book review this week, since it’s been a while.  I am still working on the 2016 reading challenge, and plugging away at it.  This week?  A book that makes me want to be a hero, and a book that makes me want to be a villain.

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The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley:

I have long been a huge fan of McKinley’s The Hero and The Crown, about an outcast of a royal woman, Aerin, who experiments with a non-burning salve used to fight dragons, and ends up being the savior of her people (along with a busted-up war horse).  I hadn’t read The Blue Sword, though I knew it was considered the sequel.  It wasn’t available on kindle until fairly recently, and isn’t available in most stores.

I found it, though, at a little used bookstore by the train station where I pick Brian up some days.  I bought it immediately and read it so fast.  Best find ever.

It’s about an orphan, Harry Crewe, who moves to be near her brother at a military outpost in the desert.  When a mountain king comes to the village to ask for military aid, his second-sight tells him to kidnap Harry and take her with him back to his kingdom.  She comes into her own, becoming one of the kings sacred riders and besting the country at the sword trials.  She communes with Lady Aerin, falls for the king, and saves a country herself.

It’s full of hard tasks and bad choices, but of trust and valor.  It makes me want to learn to ride a horse with nothing but a small leather cushion on the back.  It makes me want to live in a tent with a king and drink waters that make me have visions.  It makes me want to wear a mended scarf around my waist, and to find a home among other people with strange ways.  Even if they do start calling me Harimad Sol.

So, Harry Crewe makes me want to be a hero.

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Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman:

Kindle has been recommending me this book for a very long time, in the way it recommends things I end up disliking.  I finally read the synopsis of it, and was sort of expecting it to be a worse version of Patricia C. Wrede’s Frontier Magic.  I figured that even if it was bad it would have interesting ideas.  I was VERY wrong.  It wasn’t anything like that at all, really, except in the traveling through the west theme.

And it was great.  My only beef with the book is that I will have to wait another 2 years (!!!) for the series to be finished.  Damn you, Simon and Schuster.  You always do this to me!

In this west, there are three parts.  There is the United States, there is the territory controlled by the devil, and then there is Spain, in that order from East to West.  The devil is undefined.  Is he evil?  Who knows.  But he does protect the territory, and he does make bargains for people’s souls.  He also runs a saloon, where main character Izzy grows up.

Izzy isn’t sure where she wants to go when she reaches her majority.  So she sells herself to the devil and agrees to become his left hand, touring his portion of the territory and doing… well, she doesn’t really know.  She has a guide to teach her the road, and they know there are monsters let loose to murder the populace.  That’s all she has to go on.

It’s a great book, super-exciting, and basically reminds me of a Deadlands game that has gone to print. Being out on the road seems great, if inconvenient sometimes.  Also bonus points for a book that discusses how women deal with periods (as in monthly bleeding) because I’ve never seen that before in fantasy.

I would like to travel the road with Gabriel and see the strange things in the west, although I’m not sure I’d agree to sell my soul to the devil to do it.

Isobel makes me want to be a villain.

So that’s it for the book reviews this week.  As always, happy reading!

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LeGuin’s Steering The Craft

IMG_20150805_214658I downloaded Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering The Craft this weekend.  I thought I was getting a little bit of a how-to on writing, some good advice.  You know, something like Steven King’s On Writing, or E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. That wasn’t what I got at all, and it was the best discovery.

Steering The Craft is much more like a workbook than it is like a how-to book.  In fact, LeGuin’s writing is so much like being in class that I feel like I’ve actually decided to take one.  Her clear narrative voice feels like she’s talking straight to you, and the exercises are fun and just challenging enough to make you think, but not daunting to complete.  So great.  Bonus points for her rampant feminism.  I appreciate that SO MUCH.

I mean, “The grammarians started telling us [that using ‘their’ as a singular] was incorrect along in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.  That was when they also declared that the pronoun he includes both sexes, as in ‘if a person needs and abortion, he should be required to tell his parents.'”

How can you not love that? Such a well thought out burn.

Not only that, but I give myself so much grief over my work (agonizing over whether it’s publishable quality, flogging myself to find the right word, giving another pass at the imperfect draft that feels like it will never be perfect); it was amazingly nice to just write and not worry about it.  I found the fun in the words again.

I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, but I thought I’d post some of the exercises as I finish them.  They’re vignettes, so I would imagine they aren’t publishable.  But even if they were, I’m not sure I’d want them to be.

This one is from Exercise 2, in which I was supposed to write a paragraph of 100-350  words entirely without punctuation of any kind, even paragraph breaks.  For those who are counting, this is about 190.

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A sock a shoe a buckle slips over her ankle and a voice on a speaker calls a cue but the zipper broke and she’s gonna miss that cue for sure listening to the other guy fumble around with his lines while the three costume girls fumble with safety pins and come up short like the guy is doing vamping to the audience trying not to say um and trying not to be silent but she’s trying to be silent and so are the costume girls as one stabs her finger with a pin and a bead of blood gets onto the expensive costume they rented and their teacher will be so mad but there isn’t anything any of them can do now except try not to get any more on the dress and get the actress pinned as fast as possible they fumble again and the back of the dress gapes the actress struggles through the black drapes of the wings anyway with her back cheated away and her fingers crossed and the guy breathes a sigh of relief because there’s finally someone else there to do some talking

I think it sorta works.  I’ll be posting more soon, so stay tuned.

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Book Review: Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest

I’ve tried to review the Emily books so many times that it’s just silly.  But the books are so much a part of my existence at this point that it’s hard to be coherent about them.  Emily is the quintessential writer.  Not only are her thoughts, feelings, and work ethic extremely similar to mine, but Montgomery (along with Garrison Keillor) is one of the people I hold up as a paragon of a point I like to make.  Every subject matter is valid, even everyday mundane life.  You don’t have to have experience in darkest Africa or on the fringes of society to write an interesting book.  The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is rural Prince Edward Island in the early 1900s with plenty of aunts and family traditions to make a girl crazy.

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I have marked Emily Climbs as the book where she is most like me on the 2016 reading challenge.  This is the book in which she’s a struggling, working writer while still trying to balance school duties and family expectation.  Emily is more sensitive than I am.  I’m able to not care about what people think of me in a way she can’t.  But otherwise we are alike.  Right down to the writing habits – spilling out all the chaff of life into a diary before writing into the wee hours of the night.  Sending manuscripts back and getting nothing but rejections for them.  Scribbling sketches of events and trying to capture character in a few paragraphs.  Watching the rejections pile up and pretending you don’t care.  Being so proud of the free subscription or set of contributors copies that come with your first publication instead of pay.  Always hoping for more.

The only thing I don’t find terribly realistic is that Montgomery doesn’t treat Emily’s writing as exactly right.  We never see her editing, only writing more and more things.  It’s such a faithful portrait of a young writer otherwise that I’m sad it’s left out, not because I feel it detracted from the story but because I think it would have helped me earlier to realize that 75% of the writing process isn’t actually writing. It’s editing the stuff you wrote.

I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not.  I cannot see it clearly anymore because I am far too close to it.  But owls in the Land of Uprightness, Egyptian trinkets at the snowshoe dance, Perry’s terrible poetry and Ilse’s bad temper, midnight donuts with Cousin Jimmy, and Aunt Ruth’s terrible snooping all make for something pretty magical.

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I also read Emily’s Quest this time.  I don’t often, because this book is full of heartache.  Emily makes one bad mistake after another, spends all of her time lonely and wanting, and I generally feel morose and horrible at the end of it.  She gets a happy-ish ending, but it is so quick and so slim that it hardly seems worth the pain to get there.  It qualifies quite well as a book that makes me a complete mess for the reading challenge.

This is another one I don’t know if I should recommend.  I love knowing what happens to Emily, but watching her be so proud and so mistaken, to attempt to give things you know she can’t, to watch her succeed professionally and fail so hard personally, is not an easy thing to do.  I love New Moon, but this Emily is not the carefree, hopeful girl of the other books.  This girl has taken it on the chin hard and is struggling to make a life knowing that.  It feels true, but it doesn’t make it better to digest.  The moonlit snows and gray cats in the orchards seem lonely now, and not a comfort.  One by one, all her friends go away.  That, too, I think is a bit like the rest of us.  The promise of college never is quite the same from the other side.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to read Emily as a comfort book.  I realized that I’ve memorized large swaths of Emily Climbs this time around, and it didn’t grip me as hard as it usually does because of it.  This read around might be the end of an era.  For quite a while, at least.  We’ll see how I feel in a year or so.

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Book Reviews: Fairy Tale and Fantasy

I usually don’t write book reviews on things I feel wishy-washy about.  There’s an author behind there somewhere, and I can sympathize wholeheartedly with how hard it was to write the thing, even if it was less than perfect.  Which means that I usually admit there were flaws in a sentence or two in the reading list, and then move on to the next book.  But I have vowed to write a review of everything I read in conjunction with the reading challenge.  And I didn’t have to enjoy the book for it to count as part of the challenge.  I just have to have finished it.

Here are two books that I’m counting but didn’t love.  I’ll tell you why, and you can decide whether you want to check them out for yourself, and I’ll also suggest alternatives that I liked much better than these.  I hope the authors aren’t too upset with me (although one is deceased, so…possible haunting?).

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Daughter of Witches by Patricia C. Wrede:                                                                                 (a book filled to the rim with magic)

I love Wrede’s writing.  Her Frontier Magic series is one of the most original and fun things I’ve ever read.  I love the Cecelia works she wrote with Caroline Stevermer, and will happily swoon over Marleon the Magician.

I am, however, not fond of a fantasy book that reads like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign (of any kind).  A D&D campaign is an exercise in shared storytelling, and the disconnected, character-centered thing that results hardly ever feels right when put into novel form.  It feels like the author is trying to share a joke with you that you had to be there to understand: it’s just not that amusing in the retelling.  Usually either the plot is good or the characters are developed, but not both.  It can feel like the characters are being pigeon-holed into a God-driven plot (ala the Dungeon Master) without good reason.  Wrede is pretty forthright about the Lyra novels being based on campaigns she ran, in a universe she created.

Despite my criticism of D&D novels, Wrede does a great job of making the Lyra Collection feel like it should in the later books.  Daughter of Witches is book 2, and Wrede clearly hasn’t hit her stride yet.  It wasn’t quite the confusion of kidnapping and journey with no explanation that Shadow Magic was.  But it was character heavy without much plot, and feels too guided.  The stakes never felt high for the characters, either.  The death is so distant that it doesn’t feel real, and the death that’s in front of them seems unurgent.

The writing was good, I stayed engaged in the world, but ultimately I just didn’t care about what happened to the characters.  I wanted to care, but couldn’t get there.  If you’re looking for something similar to read, I would start with Wrede’s Caught in Crystal and move to The Raven Ring.  Both are excellent, and you don’t need to have read the others in the series to have fun with them.  That way you get Lyra goodness with Wrede’s more developed style to back it up.  Or, you know, just go read Thirteenth Child, first of the Frontier Magic series.

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English Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs:                                                                                         (a book with lots of mystical creatures)

My biggest beef with this book was that it proclaimed originality and didn’t deliver.  It was written in 1890, though, you will say.   So who is to judge whether the stories were perhaps new then?

The Grimms were writing books in the 1860s, and these stories are a repeat of those, almost completely, under the guise of being English instead of German.  Even in his time period, he loses originality points…

The book was in the simple folk-writing that fairy tales are often in, with lots of telling and little showing.  They were easy to read, and I did enjoy them some.  It was also a quick read, which I appreciated.  I was expecting much more than a collection of children’s stories that I had heard before, though.  So perhaps it was my expectation that was flawed and not the book itself.

Looking for something AWESOME to read instead?  Try The Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar.  There are 44 tales in there, and she groups them into common themes and discusses similarities between cultures that you can see in the narratives.  That’s good and so is Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Family Tales by Valerie Paradiz, where she discusses how the Grimms used their sister to collect the stories, and the importance of the tales in female indoctrination to society.  Both are fairy tale plus, and an excellent read.  They contain more of the originality that I was hoping for when I picked this book up

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Book Review: Good Poems, American Places

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I mean, it’s sort of a review.  And a contemplation on America and life:

I didn’t move that far away from where I grew up and yet it still feels like a different world out here some days.  Most times that’s a good thing.  The views of bouldered green hills, snowcapped mountains, and rows of citrus make me feel like I am living in Ultimate California.  Although with my former job in my home town, I hadn’t really been able to enjoy it.

Now that I’m here, I’ve been exploring Riverside in fits and starts.  Between it and Redlands, I think this corner of the world might have been made for me.  On Tuesdays, the local movie theater screens classics.  The bakery down town has the most divine cinnamon twists.  There is a British Emporium & Tea Shop and an indie bookstore called the Cellar Door just minutes from my office.  Couple that with the civil war reenactors in Redlands, that amazing red library, and the fact that I am walking to the symphony Saturday night and I am in bliss.  I’m ready to take a walk and buy oranges at the fruit stand down the street.

For my reading challenge, I bought Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems, American Places at the bookstore last night.  It’s billed as poems for those who don’t like poetry.  I’m one of those people who scoffs at poetry, and I can support his claim because I’ve been loving it.  “The world is our consolation,” Keillor says of Americans in the introduction.  “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, we get into our car and drive.  It’s a big country.”

I was listening to someone last Saturday night tell about adventures in Uganda.  They were strange and wonderful, but I knew that it was no more than a story to me unless I somehow, by some miracle, grow deeper pockets. I am realizing while reading this collection that what I do know is America.

I know boating on a placid, icy lake to a deserted hiking spot.  I know tubing in the summer sunshine while pontoon boats rise above my head.  I know the view of the golden dome of the capital building from the high rise hotel with city lights shining brighter than stars beneath.  I know planting tomatoes in the earth in front of my semi-generic tract home, and long road trips across concrete highways.  I have seen Old Faithful burst from the ground, and I have ridden the boat to Disneyland.

The book is making me contemplative and a little melancholy, I think.  But in a good way.  There’s so much to love in this book, so many moments that I’ve also felt along with the poet.  It feels like mine in a way no other of Keillor’s Good Poems collections have.  I’m very glad I found it.

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