Posts Tagged With: Neil Gaiman

Book Review: Fragile Things and The Darkest Part of the Forest

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I realized, as I was writing this review, that I have reviewed Black and Gaiman together before now.  Their work is so different,  but it feels like 2 sides of the same coin in many ways.  Gaiman writes mostly for adults, Black for YA.  Gaiman deals in myth, Black in fairy tale.  The books are filled with the weird and the strange.  And those weird, strange things often take place in the modern age.  It was an accident that I’m putting them together this time.  They’re the only 2 non-fiction books that I haven’t reviewed yet.  It seemed right to do them together at the same time. So here we are,  with the books fulfilling the “a book that will be a complete mindfuck” and “a book you bought long ago but still haven’t read” categories for the reading challenge.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman:

I should probably couch this review by saying that I mostly don’t enjoy short stories.  Or, rather, that there is a celebrated type of short story that I loathe, full of beautiful words and terrible happenings that brings me more unsettled upset than entertainment.  It’s a staple of the genre. But I love Gaiman, and I have read all his novels already.  Some multiple times.  Also, his work is always a mindfuck.  It’s strange in ways that are completely right yet unexpected.

I enjoyed Fragile Things and I didn’t, in about equal measure.  A Study in Emerald is worth the price of the whole thing, I enjoyed it so much.  I think anyone with a penchant for Doyle would.  But there were others in there that just made me rather horrified.  They were all so hit and miss that it’s impossible to go through and say worth it/skip of each, which I would have to do.  And to be honest, if you can find Emerald not in this book, that’s the route I would go with.  For me, the joy wasn’t worth the pain.  The quality of the work is amazing, the subject matter was not often my cup of tea.

Looking for something Gaiman to read?  American Gods, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Stardust are all good options.  Looking for something new of Gaiman’s to read?  He just came out with a non-fiction book of essays “The View From the Cheap Seats,” which I hear is good (although I haven’t gotten around to it yet).

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: 

Every time I read Holly Black, I remind myself that I need to read more Holly Black.  I don’t know why she doesn’t come to mind as an immediate “yes” author to me.  Everything I have read of hers has been joyfully frightening, fascinatingly horrifying.  This one is about a modern town on the edge of faerie.  There is a horned prince in the forest, sleeping in a glass coffin, and then he goes missing. And then people start dying.

It’s all the things I loved about the Tithe world with a more epic heroine to balance out the story.  There are several things in the genre that are always a YES for me (almost irrespective of content).  Fae, love stories, and women with swords are a few of those, which this book has in spades.  I loved it.  It made me want to buy Valliant immediately, and then re-read Coldest Girl in Cold Town.

I bought this book almost a year ago.  I don’t know what made me linger in reading it.  I lingered with Gaiman’s Ocean, though, too.  I think perhaps it’s because I know I’m going to love it so much and I only get to read it for the first time once, that I feel the need to savor it as much as possible.  Or maybe it’s a fear of ultimately not liking something I’m looking forward to so much.  Both Black and Gaiman always deliver, though.  I should remember that more.

The final verdict on Darkest Part of the Forest is go buy it now.

Happy reading!

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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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Book Review: The Art of Asking

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I just finished The Art of Asking.  I don’t even know what to say about it, because it filled me up full of feelings both good and sad.  It felt like a story I was intimately familiar with, and yet something wholly new.  It left me with so many images from my own marriage, my own struggle toward legitimacy as a writer, and my own hang-ups about asking.   It has left me feeling confessional.

I joined the AFP fandom right about when she found out that Anthony had cancer and cancelled her tour.  I remember being worried for them.  I was jealous of all the house parties.  I’m a lurker, though.  I have never tweeted her, never tried to attend a show, never attempted to find Neil at a signing.  I made a highly-inappropriate-for-work playlist of her songs and played them in my lonely office in the basement of Chapman University.  I thought about buying tickets to the book tour in Los Angeles, but I didn’t.  I am an introverted, fuddy-duddy house maker. I will go one of these days, though.  I will.

Amanda and I are fundamentally different people, but so many of those life changing moments she writes about are moments I have had myself.  Like the tear-jerking relief of being told to keep going.

Oddly, it is Neil who gave me the first words of encouragement that weren’t from people who love me (and have to be complimentary).  I spent a year and a half researching a 45 page thesis on Deaf identity and film.  My advisor loved it and suggested we try and joint publish it.  He staked his PhD on me.  And then it was rejected in a mean, mean way.  I was told it was unscholarly and offensive.  I spent the night sobbing and reading Neil’s “Make Good Art” on the couch while Brian slept in the next room.  In a fit of despair, I decided that I would write Neil and thank him for Make Good Art, because at least I had a place to proceed from.  He wrote me back.  “Good luck! And keep going…” he said.  I would have kept going anyway.  But to be told I was legitimately allowed to? By a professional? A cool wave of gratitude washed over me and something in my heart released.  I wanted to cry again, this time from relief. It was a flood.

Perhaps this is why the book feels so familiar.  I have never been a statue on the streets of Boston.  I could never live at a place like the Cloud Club.  I would never shave my eyebrows and draw them artfully back on again.  Nor would I be comfortable on a stage even partially naked.  But there is so much love in this story, and the experience of needing, wanting, and being afraid of what people will say if you ask (or take) is universal.

My father was a great help to me in relationships.  Among many other things, he taught me that I could never be angry with someone for not providing me with something I haven’t asked for.  That is how I’ve lived my life.  It’s okay not to ask, but I have to assume that if I don’t ask I’m not getting it.  This is why it took me five years to see Garrison Keillor at the Hollywood Bowl (I told you I’m a fuddy-duddy).  It’s why I sometimes don’t feel like I’m getting enough attention from Brian (ask him to get off Facebook, or decline a night of Netflix? No).  It’s also why I had an amazing and awesome graduation party.  That one was important enough.  That one I told him I wanted.

I am slowly learning to ask; to hit myself over the head with my own “legit” wand as a writer.  The Art of Asking is a chronicle of Amanda’s journey toward the same and it is extraordinary.  It has exposed me to the wonderfulness of  a life I never would have led.  Although places, dates, and names are unique the inside struggle is something we all share.

I heartily, 100% recommend the book with all my heart.  I simultaneously want to loan it to everyone I’ve ever met (especially my artist friends) and can’t bear to part with my copy.

You should definitely go read it now.  I promise, you will walk away with something new and invaluable to think about.

Amazon Affiliate link here: The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

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Miscellany

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This is mostly going to be a post of miscellany.  I have done nothing at all that’s exciting in at least a week, so I’m having a hard time coming up with ways to paint my life as exciting.   After all, isn’t that the point of a blog?  I’ve been following Neil Gaiman’s blog and I’m happy he’s back at it again.  I feel a small twinge of disappointment, though, every time I go to the site and there is not a new one.  So in that spirit, I’m just posting something anyway.

Brian and I had a lovely date night last night.  We ate salmon and eggplant Parmesan at Café Lucca on antique chairs.  Then we went to the movie theater in the building Brian works and watched a screening of The Great Gatsby (the Baz Lurman version).  I did not hate it, and I expected to loathe every minute of it.

The night started off with a lecture on green screening, then moved to the film itself.  It was hokey, over the top, and not historically accurate.  I abhorred the book and found myself wanting to slap sense into every one of the characters, even Nick.  I didn’t have the same impulse in the movie.  I had fun following the little seeded clues to the end, the realization of the green light and the importance of the fancy, custom car that seem like nothing but are ultimately plot points.  I liked the echoing of the candles when Gatsby and Daisy dance, the white flowers when they meet, and how both of them were present at his funeral.  I liked looking for green screen.  I enjoyed myself even though I didn’t enjoy the film, despite its beauty.

Applications are coming up sooner than I like to pretend they are.  That is what I’ve spent most of my week doing.  For better or worse, it will all be submitted fifteen days from now.  I’d better do re-writes on that sadistic statement of intent right away.  If nothing else, at least I won’t have to worry about pulling intents out of my bum and trying to make them sound pretty.  That has been the worst of grad school, by far.

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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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Make Good Art

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It’s summer now, and I have less to occupy my time.  This means that the annual book devouring is in full force.  I’ve read seven books in two and a half weeks.  I have four waiting on my shelves for their turn.  Keeping me in books is a problem that I have only found one solution to, and yet my library card at Chapman expires on July 6th.

“I hope someone gives me Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art,” I told Brian a few days before I graduated.

“Did you ask anyone for it?” Brian said.

“No.”

Brian laughed, “Then why do you think someone will give it to you?”

“I don’t really expect it,” I said.  “My love of Neil Gaiman is well known, though.  I’m more just hoping.  It’s a graduation speech, it’s about life and stuff.  It’s really the perfect present.  Someone should think of it.”

No one thought of it.  Instead people gave me money, so I bought the book for myself.  (Not that I’m knocking money.  Money is really great.)  The book is really more of an art book than an actual book book.  The remarkable thing about it is the way the artist did the typesetting.  It reads like Neil Gaiman’s vocal inflections while he was giving the speech.  Inside the back flap, the book told me, “This is really great.  You should enjoy it.”  Well, I did.  Your command is my command.  (Wait, that’s not right…)

I may be biased.  I’m a vehement Neil Gaiman fan almost to the point of obsession.  (“Almost?” Brian would say.  “It’s gone far beyond almost.”  It’s really his wife I’m twitter stalking, though, I promise!)

I’ve ordered my copy of Ocean At The End Of The Lane, and those other books will all just have to wait their turn once it arrives.  I can hardly wait until mid-June when my signed copy gets here.  I’m hoping for a ghost.

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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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