Posts Tagged With: Diana Wynne Jones

Politics of the Supernatural Kind

I can’t even today.  Every time I think that a certain political candidate could not possibly make me angrier, I somehow get more incensed.  It’s at the point now where I know I have to disengage or give myself an aneurism from all the angstyness that people are STILL supporting this – I don’t even feel like there’s a word bad enough to call him – candidate.  My only consolation is that it will all be over in about 4 weeks (for better or worse).

I was thinking about doing a post about all the feminist reasons to abhor this man, but I realized that all that info is out there in spades on the internet.  And this isn’t a political blog, it’s a book/writing blog.

So, escapism it is!

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my politics with a heavy dose of magic and/or the supernatural.  So instead of a rant, I present to you 4 Fantasy books in which the government plays an active character. But don’t worry, it’s not anything like your government today.  Have at them and try and forget that America is such a mess right now.

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Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell: There’s a new big box store going into the sleepy hamlet of Lychford.  Local crank Judith doesn’t care a bit about jobs or modernization, but she does care about the site plan.  Lychford lies on the boundary of two worlds. If the supermarket is built it will destroy all wards forever, unleashing demonic destruction on the world.  Judith has to convince the town to stop construction, but she’ll need some unlikely allies to make it happen…

The book is spunky and hilarious, with a few serious moments to make it really a good book.  It’s a novella, which means it’s a quick read, and it’s everything you ever wanted in a Walmart fight, with actual demons, witches dancing under the moonlight, fae in the forests, and magic markings on the doors.

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Chalice by Robin McKinley: The last Master and Chalice died in a horrible fire after doing unspeakable things to the land. Now it is up to beekeeper Marisol (the new Chalice) and the old Master’s brother (a priest of fire who may not be quite human anymore) to heal the land and stabilize the country, before the Overlord can launch a coup for power that will certainly damage the land irreparably.

This book is one in which nothing happens and everything happens all at once, like McKinley does best.  It’s so internal, so based on looks and gestures, or subtle power plays.  But you still feel the seriousness of it as you fall in love with the land.  I never put this book down without wanting to move to the middle of nowhere and keep bees with the man I’m in love with.

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The Lives of Christopher Chant by Dianna Wynne Jones: Christopher’s parents are both powerful enchanters who hate each other.  But Christopher himself doesn’t appear to be magical at all, unless you count the marvelous lands he visits in his dreams.  His only friend is his Uncle Ralph, who sends him on missions to bring back things from those strange lands as a game.  But when Christopher is told that he’s supposed to train to become the next Chrestomanci, the president of all magic in the land, his loyalties are thrown out of whack and he isn’t sure who to trust anymore.  Or that he’ll even want to become the next Chrestomanci at all.

I just can’t say enough about this book.  It turns all fantasy tropes on its heels and features one of those perfect Dianna Wynne Jones plots where everything is absolutely nuts, random, and up in the air, but somehow it resolves into a plot that was always perfectly right and organized by the end.  You just didn’t know it. My favorite person in the book is the priestess Asheth.  She always wants Christopher to bring her “exotic” books featuring Millie and her boarding school adventures.  It’s technically a children’s book, but it’s definitely complex and fun for adults, too.

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Voices: Memer is a daughter of the Oracle House, a place the conquerors and occupiers of the town Ansul are sure is filled with demons.  Reading and writing are punishable by death, and Oracle House is the only place that books now exist in the town, locked up in a secret room.  When the famous traveling minstrel, Orrec, arrives with his wife Gry to tell stories to the soldiers, Memer begins to see how important story really is.  Important enough that it could give Ansul back it’s peace and freedom, could give the people enough bravery to rebel against their oppressors.

I don’t know why I’m in love with this book so much, because it’s a serious read that deals with grave topics that surround war.  Memer herself is the daughter of a rape. But Memer is so beloved, and the world so vibrant, that you root for the townsfolk and their freedom wholeheartedly.  It’s got a magic to it that’s hard to define, partly (I think) because it feels so real.  This could be a history of somewhere you’ve never heard of, and it ends with so much hope.

So that’s my recommendation.  As always, happy reading!  And together maybe we can avoid imploding from election drama… Maybe.

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Fall-ish Reading List 2014

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In the holiday shuffle, I missed posting my fall reading list.  So this one contains everything I’ve read up until January 1.  It’s shorter because I’ve been doing less reading of other people’s novels and more reading of my own.  Draft 6 is in full swing.

So, without further ado, here it is:

1.      A Wonderlandiful World, by Shannon Hale – Fun like the others, but I missed Apple and Raven.  Hale does some brilliant stuff that is Against the Rules and Shouldn’t Work with the character of the narrator. And yet it does, perfectly.

2.      Demons, and other magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge – She did not deliver on a (stupid) thing she’s been threatening for three books now, so that made me unhappy.  Otherwise it was what it should have been.  Nice epic finish that felt big enough.

3.      Manon Lescaut by Abbe Provost – I can’t say I liked it, although it got me thinking quite a bit.  It’s one of those novels where I disdain the characters and think they’re all idiots.  But it broadened my horizons.  So I’m not sorry I read it.

4.      The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern – If it was possible that anything could be funnier than the movie, this book is funnier than the movie.  The Florin jokes, abridgements, and history are the best thing ever, like I’m part of a massive inside joke.

5.      Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – Man hired to read company e-mails secretly falls in love with girl who keeps violating the e-mail policy.  The two gals are beyond hilarious, the main character is such a great guy, and I love this book so much.

6.      The Lake by Analisa Grant – I just… 1st person present tense was difficult for me, and the story was cliché.  But it had profluence and an interesting main character.  I gave up 1/3 of the way through.  Maybe I’ll pick it up again, I don’t know.

7.      A Garden Folly by Candice Hern – The stupid sort of G rated Regency romance I love a lot.  Although it does make me uncomfortable when a girl says no and a guy doesn’t listen, no matter how much she’s really enjoying it.

8.      Paper Towns by John Green – Looking For Alaska was a better “finding someone” novel, and An Abundance of Katherines was a better “road trip” novel.  But it enjoyed it, and would have enjoyed it more had I not read the others first, I think.

9.      The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer – Now this is what I look for in a sappy regency romance.  Sophy is delightfully uncouth, quippy, and still the toast of the town.  It’s such a fun novel!  I’m pretty sure Heyer is my new obsession.

10.  The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer – A confusing start but ultimately fun.  Minus (miniscule) points because the siblings don’t have a great reason for masquerading.  Most of the novel had me in conniptions worried for Prue in White’s club.

11.  A Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer – I feel  like I shouldn’t have liked this one because of the abduction but I did anyway.  I could have done without the swath at the end where silly brothers are silly.  Otherwise impeccable.

12.  The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer – Considered her best by folks on Goodreads. It was cute, but I wasn’t super impressed.  The way she treats gender relationships sometimes bothers me, but not enough to hate the book.  It was a different time.

13.  More Than Somewhat by Damon Runyon – Why is he so wonderful?  I forgot how hilarious he makes the Broadway underworld of the 1930s and 40s.  I wish more of his stuff was available.

14.  The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – Oh CRAZY good, and perfect for the Halloween mood I was in.  Vampire novel meets quippy YA novel in the best way.  It was violent, but I found I could take it.  Seriously, this one is amazing.

15.  The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer – This one was sort of murder mystery-ish, although I knew who did it way too far in advance.  Once again, some unwanted advances are blamed on the flirtatious girl (sigh).  But I enjoyed it anyway.

16.  Dangerous by Shannon Hale – I love this novel, and the problems I saw in it the first time didn’t bother me at all the second time through.  The best part is still the funny names Maisy gives her false arm, and the bad puns.  They never get old.

17.  A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – You don’t often get nonfiction books that focus on the daily lives of women.  And women in the late 1700’s? Sold! It was a fascinating read and taught me A LOT about colonial domestic life. Love.

18.  The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer – It’s weird.  This book feels utterly familiar and yet new at the same time.  I am in love with her, and this book is all the toppings on the sundae of how she’s changed my perspective and my life. So good.

19.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Beautifully written. It made me angsty and paranoid, though. The things she has to say about relationships are so heartbreakingly true that it feels like I could get there.  And the end?  No.  Just, no.  Ultimately did not like.

20.  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I have never read any Dickens as an adult, and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I did when I was younger.  His character descriptions are delightful, and the story is so much more full.  Poor Pip and his fortune.

21.  Balls and Synthetic Cheese by Amethyst Hethcoat – A classmate of mine.  Such a weird and sometimes funny collection of short stories.  I had forgotten her penchant for unlikely metaphors and similes that make me grin. I was glad for the reminder.

22.  Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley – SO good, with that mundane quality in which nothing and everything happens which McKinley does so well. It’s a different book than Beauty, the ending far more satisfying.  Happily ever after is happy too.

23.  Landline by Rainbow Rowell – CRAZY good.  It made me think of Brian and the way things used to be 15 years ago when we were first dating.  It was sweet, and at this point I’m ready to read everything Rowell has ever written ever.

24.  Sunshine by Robin McKinley – It killed me that I didn’t have 12 hours to just sit down and read this thing all the way through.  Dirtier than most McKinely novels, but I didn’t mind.  This book makes vampire tropes look Hot (capital H).

25.  Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – I love the way Rowell makes me think of my own college days.  It makes me want to love Brian in detail like that again.  Cath is so wonderful in such a messy way.  There isn’t anything I don’t love about this book.

26.  Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones – A re-read.  I forgot how terrible Gwendolyn is, and how funny Chrestomanci’s dressing gowns are.  And Millie! And the adorable but bitey dragon! Some of the best of Diana Wynne Jones.

27.  The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones – A re-read.  Because after Cat, you HAVE to have Christopher and his Almost Anywheres.  I might love this book more than the first one, although I nearly always read them in this order.

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Summer Reading List, 2014

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Tomorrow is orientation day.  I will be checking Freshman into dorms and handing parents welcome packets.  That means that summer is officially over, I think.  I don’t know why that should be such a sad thing.  After all, summer doesn’t mean anything different than the rest of the year when there is a full time job to work.  But there is something about knowing that the days will get colder and darker that makes the end of summer seem like the end of something bigger.

Here is the list of all the things I’ve read this season with a brief review.  28 titles for just three months is pretty good, I think!  That’s a few more than last year.  Also, you’re not allowed to judge me for my love of smutty fantasy literature.  That is in the (invisible, hypothetical) contract we have together.  

Summer Reading List:

  1. Bon Courage by Ken McAdams – It really wasn’t written well, but there was something about the idyllic life fixing up a house in the French countryside that made me want to know what happened. Old people sex advisory…
  2. The Dark Lord of Dirkholm by Diana Wynne Jones – Hilarious because I know the D&D genre, but at times a bit slow. Magical creatures and this fabulous world make it worth the read, though. Dragons, griffins, and flying pigs!
  3. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson – From the Blitz at the Fitz to the Mid Day PDA, to the awesome way these kids run a heist to make sure Gaby wins the school election, I fell in love. Can I have a Jr. High career as cool as these guys do?
  4. Popular by Maya Van Wagenen – Watching her navigate 1950s world in today’s less tolerant (supposedly) version was hilarious, mostly thanks to her great sense of humor. Bonus points for giant girdle pictures and 4-butt diagrams.
  5. Clever Maids, the Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz –I never realized that these stories were never for children, nor did I realize how much women had a part in collecting them. A great, easy to read history.
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott –When I read the bit where Amy cries over her math problems, I remembered why I fell in love and binge-read this book in my early teens. We may be 150 years apart, but I know those feels, Amy. I really do.
  7. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott – It’s like ointment for the crazy writer in my soul. Plus, it’s funny, and I’m beginning (to my chagrin) realize that it’s all true. All of it. Even the neurotic bits that I don’t want to be real.
  8. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons– A novel published in the 1930s to make fun of the popular country novel style of the time, and oh, so funny in the quirkiest way! I was laughing aloud enough to keep Brian awake. Sorry, dear.
  9. The Philosophy of Composition, by Edgar Allen Poe – It took me a minute to get into the Victorian style again, but it was a VERY interesting look into his process. It’s so methodical, despite the high emotional content of his writings.
  10. Typhoid Mary by Anthony Bordain – Lots of fun, but… He’s goes overboard just to shock and disgust, and judges Mary by modern standards. Both are taboo when analyzing History. I loved it, recommend it, but wouldn’t take it too seriously.  
  11. Train by Tom Zoellner – Beautiful and languid and not at all compelling. I like that I can put it down and pick it up at will. I can revel in beautiful language and scenery, and not think too much. But I liked A Safeway in Arizona better.
  12. Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J. B. West– Simple, but interesting to see what it was like to serve everyone from the Roosevelts onward. He concentrates on the families as people, not politics. I couldn’t put it down.
  13. The Raven Ring, by Patricia C. Wrede – I’m a fan of hers. This one had a bunch of tropes that usually annoy the crap out of me but didn’t seem to in this incarnation. It was essentially a D&D campaign, but it didn’t read like that at all.
  14. The Twisted Tower, by Patricia C. Wrede – Okay, I’m totally hooked on the Lyra novels now. I might need to stop soon, so I don’t spend every night up until 1 am because I can’t put the books down. There are a ton more…
  15. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King – yup, I’m re-reading this one because it’s so helpful. I’m suffering from a lack of ideas right now, which means I bone up on technique until I have some. No rest for the wicked.
  16. Shadow Magic, by Patricia C. Wrede – Not as charming as the others. I actually stopped about 1/3 of the way through because I still couldn’t tell what the plot was and, unlike her others, the writing wasn’t compelling. Unpleasantly surprised.
  17. Chalice, by Robin McKinley – A re-read. I love this book so much it’s unquantifiable, because nothing and everything happens. It’s all internal. There is a half fire demon Master, grieving land, and so many bees. I want to move here.
  18. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine– I think she sometimes goes a little off the deep end disproving a point or two that laypeople don’t care about, but overall it’s been fascinating to learn how much expectation influences brain performance.
  19. Looking for Alaska, by John Greene – I knew I couldn’t handle TFIOS, but I wanted on the bandwagon. HOLY CRAP. Totally good, but still super sad. I laughed, I cried, I loved those boarding school boys and their antics. I loved Alaska too.
  20. The Hero and The Crown, Robin McKinley – Another re-read about damaged Aerin and her damaged horse, who eventually take on dragons of many kinds. The ending is interesting, too, because she gets her prince and she doesn’t at the same time.
  21. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green – Oh John Green, you’re books are SO GOOD. This one has a grand theorem of dumping, a pig from hell, the body of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, anagrams, Islam, 19 Katherines, and a dark cave.
  22. The Graveyard Book, Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman – I love this book, and the graphic novel is a delight. I recommend reading the book first, but the expressions and art in this one! Each chapter is by a different artist. I can’t wait for volume 2.  
  23. The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green – Fun and quippy, even as it’s also the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever read. This is the only book this season that struck me and changed the way I think of things forever. I did not expect that.
  24. The Elements of Style by William Struck Jr. – This is so much more of a reference book and not an outright reading book. I’m glad I have it, but I didn’t finish it. I’ll go back and peruse when I need specific answers on formatting, etc.
  25. Cupcakes, Trinkets, and Other Deadly Magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge– A self-pub and I liked it! Language wasn’t polished and it was definitely a paranormal romance. But the story line was so good that none of it mattered. I bought book 2.
  26. Graveyard Shift by Lana Harvey – Another with language that isn’t super polished, and the end was slow in arriving, but the world this book is set in!! So cool! The main character is quippy, there’s plenty of underworld “celeb sightings.” So fun.
  27. Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian– the writing is beautiful, the story concept is interesting. I had to stop reading it, though. Graphic war descriptions where no one dies are not good for lunch hour. And that’s all the time I have to read right now…
  28. Trinkets, Treasures, and other Bloody Magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge– Full of gratuitous sex, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. It was exactly what I expected it to be. Lots of fun, lots of adventure, and lots of supernatural twenties angst.
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Book Review – Diana Wynne Jones

I get on kicks where I read a whole bunch of one author at a time, and it appears that this is one of those times.  Diana Wynne Jones is someone I wished I had discovered earlier, because I would have worshiped her books had I read them as a girl.  As it is, I find myself loving them and wishing I was clever enough to have written something half so amazing.  Howl’s Moving Castle and Chrestomanci are what she is known for, but she has tens of obscure books that are also wonderful.  Here are my thoughts on two of them:

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The Dark Lord of Derkholm:

The Dark Lord of Dirkholm wasn’t what I thought it would be. I expected magical, funny, and chaotic. After all, it’s a Diana Wynne Jones novel, and those are the things she does best. This was funnier than that, and more awful than that as well.

The basic premise is that a bumbling family man, farmer, and wizard named Dirk is elected to play Dark Lord to a host of pilgrim parties that come through their world via portals every Fall. The pilgrim parties are destroying their landscape, and an oracle says that if they elect Dirk as Dark Lord, the pilgrim parties will end. Dirk is famous for his genetic experimentation on animals, breeding intelligent and, frankly, really cool things. There are the Friendly Cows, the Carnivorous Sheep, the Flying Pigs, the Sentient Dogs. And then there are his “children:” Griffins bred from he and his wife’s DNA, and reared with his natural-born children. They all work together to make the pilgrim parties go well (for a while).

It’s a funny commentary on the Dungeons and Dragons genre, and Jones really knows her stuff. It’s hilarious to see regular human beings conform to the tropes of the genre for heaps of overzealous tourists. Among the hilarity, though, Jones makes a more serious point: the fact that this isn’t actually a game. Killing isn’t a game, and neither is war, or sacking villages, or being kidnapped, or being forced to fight in an arena. It’s mostly well done, although it left me reeling a few times as she transitioned between funny and not. Sometimes it was seamless, sometimes it wasn’t. I definitely lost the sense of profluence during some of the many battle scenes with the Dark Lord’s army.

I’m a HUGE fan of Jones’s work and I’ve read tons of it. I liked this book more for the world and the characters than for the story itself. Still, I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to other fans. If you haven’t read a lot of Diana Wynne Jones, things like Aunt Maria, Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Hemlock, Dogsbody, and the Chrestomanci series were much better.

Homeward Bounders:

Speaking of books by Diana Wynne Jones: The Homeward Bounders is another that is waiting for a full review. This one is about a boy who finds that his world is actually a game board in use by a bunch of demons. He’s cast out of his world for the discovery, forced to wander the boundaries (the bounds) of hundreds of worlds until he can get home again. Along the way, he picks up a motley collection of other Homeward Bounders who are intent on destroying the demons and reclaiming their worlds together.

This book was more of the Diana Wynne Jones type. A whole collection of random occurrences pull together at the end to all make brilliant sense. Along the way, her collection of worlds is fascinating and funny. While the myths in her stories are nebulous and are hard to pinpoint, these felt like Greek. There is an ultimate Homeward Bounder who is so similar to Prometheus, but the Flying Dutchman and his crew also make an appearance, among others.

The worlds are in flux, so the story seemed less anchored than some of her other stories. The rules are always changing. While I think this was probably not purposeful, it serves the story well enough. Because of the multitude of worlds, this book also has a strange factor that is deeper than her other books. For the queen of strange, that’s really saying something… I would certainly recommend the read, though. Not her absolute best, but “not her best” by Diana Wynne Jones is often high and far above the best of others.

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Interterm Reading List

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It is officially the end of Interterm this week. The students are back, regular classes are in session. That probably means that I should post my reading list for this school season. Yes, I’m not in class anymore. Still, I’m working at a college and the year seems to divide itself naturally into these sections. The reading list is smaller than the others, I’ll admit, but Interterm is short. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, here is my official Interterm reading list with reviews:

1. Consider The Lobster – David Foster Wallace: His writing is excellent, but I can’t get over the conviction that he’s embellishing the truth for a better story. I’ve caught him in a few.

2. Elizabeth The First Wife – Lian Dolan: Super smutty like promised, but a bit contrived. I still loved it because the girl and the guy get together in the end. I’m terrible that way.

3. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding: So excellent, with an endearing and neurotic main character you just have to love.

4. Lives Like Loaded Guns – Lyndall Gordon: The life of Emily Dickenson and her family. Heartbreaking, makes me glad I’m not a Victorian woman, and impossible to put down.

5. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published – Arielle Eckstut & David Henry Sterry: Lots of interesting stuff to ponder. Makes me think that a lot of my instincts about just putting my writing out there are right.

6. Power of Three – Diana Wynne Jones: One of her best, I think. You know it’s one thing and then it morphs into another entirely. Clever and fun. I couldn’t put it down.

7. Shadows – Robin McKinley: Written from the 1st person POV of a rather gushy high school girl, but that’s its only flaw. I am otherwise IN LOVE with this book.

8. Nine Coaches Waiting – Mary Stewart: Oh another that I have re-read to death. It’s Raul mostly, I’ll admit, but the setting is beautiful, the suspense heartbreaking, and the end perfect.  So perfect!

9. On Writing Well – William Zinsser: In the absence of teachers, I have books… this confirmed a lot of my already held assumptions and clarified a bunch of questions. Clever read, and helpful.

10. Beauty – Robin McKinley: Loved all but the very end. Happily Ever After doesn’t quite satisfy when the rest is so sophisticated, and when I had such a deep affection for life pre-Happily Ever After.

11. Pegasus – Robin McKinley: It’s ½ a book, and it ends SO traumatically. Otherwise, it’s a beautiful setting and a beautiful concept. I’ll be picking up the next ASAP, please write fast! 🙂

In other news, my book list is stacking up horribly fast, no thanks to Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deals. For the first time in a long time, my to-read list is more than ten books long. I’m in the middle of Inkheart right now, far enough in to know that I love it, but not far enough to have more of an opinion than that. Then there is In Cold Blood, a book about German fighter pilots and how they felt about working for Hitler, seven romance novels (hey, it is February…), Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter, and Tom Zoellner’s new book about trains. I have a feeling I’ll be adding sequels to that as well. It’s overwhelming. I practically need the smaller commute I’m seeking, just for the extra reading hours. That is also a story I’m sticking with.  We’ll see how it goes when I post Spring’s reading list…

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Fall Reading List

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In the interests of being fair to summer, I’m posting my Fall reading list complete with short review of everything I read.  I know it’s December now and WAY past Fall, but the fall semester just ended here, so I consider myself legit.  Also, books make GREAT Christmas presents and there’s still time to order stuff from Amazon.  Barely.  I should really get on that…

So anyway, here’s everything I’ve read since the semester started in late August:

  1. The Hero and The Crown – Robin McKinley (I’ve read about gals that I want to be, but never that I wanted to watch like I want to watch Aerin.  Fascinating main character, kick ass story.)
  2. Chalice – Robin McKinley (I just want to move into this world and tend bees.  Can I?)
  3. The 4:50 From Paddington – Agatha Christie (Just as I’m certain, CERTAIN, I know who did it, it turns out to be someone I didn’t want to consider.)
  4. The Name of The Wind – Patrick Rothfuss (Although well written, it reads like a D&D campaign.  I prefer to play them, not read about them.  The writing is such that I’ll finish, though.)
  5. Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief – Rick Riorden (This reminded me a lot of Going Bovine, but Going Bovine was much better written.  Not bad, not the best of its kind.)
  6. The Big Drop: Homecoming – Ryan Gattis (Nods to Chandler and Fante, but is totally its own thing.  The best argument for character driven narrative I’ve ever read.)
  7. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – Jenny Lawson (Reads just like her blog, which I can’t read in public because I can’t stop laughing in inappropriate ways.)
  8. Midnight In Austenland – Shannon Hale (A re-read.  For the third time.  This is likely to become one of those books I can’t read anymore because I’ve memorized too much of it.)
  9. Kneenock Rise – Natalie Babbit (My favorite in fourth grade. It goes too fast now, but reading it out loud helps, and also made me notice her foreshadowing and savor her word choice.)
  10. Story Book High, Book 1 – Shannon Hale (yes, I know… a book produced by Mattel?  But Shannon Hale.  I was torn.  It wasn’t bad.  At times it was even hilarious, if you like puns. I do.)
  11. Aunt Maria – Diana Wynne Jones (You read, and you think ‘what the hell is happening?’ but all parts fall into place by the end.  This is why I love her. Also, because Aunt Maria is creepy.)
  12. Self Reliance – Ralph Waldo Emerson (This “updated” version is really reduced to a quaint quote book by the new stuff interspersed between Emerson’s essays. Doesn’t do him justice.)
  13. The Wave in the Mind – Ursula K. LeGuin (I loved her essays on growing up in 1930’s California and on reading, and then I read her essays on rhythm in writing and fell in love more.)
  14. Fortunately, The Milk – Neil Gaiman (Wumpires and a time-traveling stegosaurus?  Yes please.)
  15. Let’s Get Visible – David Gaughran (Because I’m thinking of self-publishing.  Still undecided…)
  16. Johnny Tremain – Esther Forbes (In the beginning Johnny is an asshat, and in the end he’s a sap, but between is good.  Plot is very coincidental, though.)
  17. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien (So well written, and just full of the fear of war.)
  18. Persuasion – Jane Austen (A re-read, and a book I love.)
  19. Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch (This is the book that made me decide NOT to self-publish.  I’m not that cool.  I don’t have the mad skillzorz it would take to do it well.  I suppose it’s good that I found this out early.)
  20. Helen of Pasadena – Lian Dolan (total smut in the best way, and extra fun because I know some of the main locations.)
  21. The Kings and Queens of Roam – Daniel Wallace (Heartbreaking and fable-like.  It’s beautiful, but I’m not sure I’ll finish it.  I’m not sure I can take it.)
  22. Candyfreak – Steve Almond (I think I might be in love with this man… mostly because he’s even more of a sugar freak than I am, but also because he’s hilarious.  Don’t tell Brian – although he probably suspects.  I’ve been reading him snippets of the book for days.)

I also just bought Consider The Lobster and Elizabeth the First Wife, but I’ll finish those after the requisite deadline for reporting what I’ve read.  Those will be the first on the Winter Interterm reading list.  I’m very excited, especially about Elizabeth the First Wife which promises to be extra smutty.

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For the Love of Novels

My earliest memory of reading was the Little Bear books, although those would hardly be considered novels. My mother would tuck herself into the bottom of the bunk bed with me and make me read to her. She took one side of the hard cover in her hand, and I took the other in my tiny one. I was always so conflicted inside. I wanted to know what happened to Little Bear next, but it was so hard to stumble through the words. If I was good and kept trying, my mother might read the last page of the chapter to me. Then, the book came alive in my mind like a film. After Little Bear came Drummer Hoff, who fired it off, which made me feel that it must be a beautiful thing to wear a tricorn hat and fire cannons at things. Later, it was the Secret Garden in all its haunting mystery, which my mother read to both my sister and I at bedtime.

I received Kirsten, an American Girl doll, the Christmas I was in 3rd grade. She came with a set of seven books about her life in 1850’s Minnesota. Once the Christmas tree was devoid of gifts, she and I climbed the brown trunk of the tree in my front yard and settled down into the y shaped crook that was my favorite. I read her all of her stories, partly out of conviction that her time in that maroon box may have made her forget herself.

By sixth grade, it was impossible to keep me in books any longer. I just read too fast. Elizabeth George Speare’s magical and frightening tales of puritan New England lasted me only a day. I sped through Natalie Babbit’s books, and wished that I could climb Kneenock Rise with the fat dog Alice, too. I fell in love with Anne of red hair and fiery temper and her need for puffed sleeves. Emily, haunted by family tradition in the beautiful New Moon, was next, and so was Valancy’s propensity to shock her miserly mother and the collections of Darks and Penhallows fighting over a jug in A Tangled Web.

In Junior High it was The Hobbit. I was half in love with Gandalf, of all people, despite his age and mostly for his fireworks. I was ready to pack my things and move to Rivendale post haste. I decided that I was going to read the classics – all of them – about this time. Wuthering Heights made me angry at the stupidity of everyone. Around the World in Eighty Days made me dream of balloons and elephants. Kipling secretly made me want to go overboard on an ocean liner. I breathed To Kill a Mocking Bird in eighth grade. Of all the soul shattering scenes in that book, the rabid dog stands out strongest now.

My Aunt Nancy sent us a package for Christmas when I was thirteen. She usually sent us a package, but this year we stripped the gilded paper from a beautiful, hardbound copy of Little Women. I think my mother had designs that we would all read it as a family together, like we did when my sister and I were little. I did not wait for that. I charged through the book and did not stop for months. When I finished savoring the last word on the last page, I would turn to the beginning again: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” That book held the universe, from the Pickwick Society to Laurie’s tragic past, to kittens and blancmange for sickness and the importance of gloves. It had croquet, lobster and jam disasters, champagne, parties to which you needed to wear a ball gown, France, and a knight who sneezed and his head fell off. I stylized myself a less-artistic Amy and memorized both the scene where she goes to the ball with Laurie in France, and the one where they are engaged after Beth’s death. My mother made me a present of Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Jack and Jill, An Old Fashioned Girl, and Eight Cousins next, and I worked my way through those as well, continually reading them as I did Little Women.

In high school, I discovered The Lord of the Rings. The Alcott obsession waned, and Tolkien burned instead. I wanted to be Arwen for a long time. I was more than head over heels for Aragorn by then. Then realized that Eowyn was more my style. No waiting at home for me, I wanted to dress like a man and take out the biggest baddie of them all, even if it did put me in a death sleep and meant I was stuck with Faramir. My family took a trip to Yosemite that year to stay in a white tent cabin. There is something so magical about reading Tolkien amid the trees. You could round any path to find the painted door of a hobbit hole in the hillside. Or so it feels.

Today, my passions have diversified. It was Garrison Keillor for a while, his sad tales of Lake Woebegone where desire lurks in the darkness and baseball games and typewriters stand in the light. I devoured Jane Austen, then Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl who could speak to the geese, and Enna who almost consumed herself with fire. Agatha Christie’s shocking morbidity kept me fascinated. Ursula K. LeGuin made me long for other, colder, planets. My current Diana Wynne Jones obsession, the way she entwines ancient mythos with anoraks, pies and laundry, has been interrupted by a Neil Gaiman fixation. This is the worst one yet. He is all over social media, which means that new things from him are never ending, and the fixation can continue unbroken.

How to pick a favorite from all the rest? It is impossible. Favorites change at the drop of a hat, at the changing of the seasons, with age and with experience. It is like picking a favorite child. Still, if I were to pick one it might be Little Women. Alcott was my first obsession. I find myself following the tenets in her books even today. For instance:

I have had a busy day at work sorting out customs paperwork. They did it all wrong while I was on vacation and now things are backed up for miles, in purgatory. My husband and I fought about faucets for the bathroom sink that morning. When you are feeling in a funk, do something nice for someone else and let the good feelings surround you, suggests Alcott. That night, I make dinner and set the table with candles and real, cloth napkins. It doesn’t help completely. That feeling of dissatisfaction still lingers underneath my heart, but it is less than it was before, and it does not grow. The argument has dissolved into the ether.

There is no denying that this book has seeped into the very framework of my ideology and stuck there like muscle on a backbone. I still wish to be those girls sometimes, collected around Beth’s piano for a song or ensconced in the garret with Jo’s inky fingers and askew cap, or having larks with Laurie. I can’t read Little Women anymore. I have memorized too much of it and the scenes no longer play in my head as if I was watching a film. Still, I remember the scenes vividly. I remember the tenets of their lives vividly. I remember the affection, family, tragedy, and even the petty betrayals, and I love them. While not necessarily my flashy, current favorite, the March sisters have certainly stuck with me the longest.

The constant, from Little Bear to Gaiman, is the devouring of new ideas, of the lives of others. Beethoven once wrote, “Oh it would be so lovely to live a thousand lives.” I have lived them in my mind and am all the richer for them. I am a teetotaling college student with a part time desk job. I have a husband, two cats, a mortgage. In my spare time I bake things and do homework. But when I pick up a book, lose myself in the ink on the pages, I am continually becoming.

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