Review: The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

You know how sometimes you really, really want to like a book?  Because maybe people have suggested it to you with great enthusiasm, and you think they are lovely people, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings by disliking their book?  And also it is a book by a British author full of British humo(u)r, and when you were in England maybe several different people told you that Americans have bad senses of humo(u)r and don’t understand irony, and even though you know those people were absurd and Alanis Morrisette is Canadian, there is still a tiny portion of your brain that wants to continue to prove them wrong by appreciating British humo(u)r wherever you encounter it, even if in this case you find it self-conscious and prone to telegraphing its punch lines a bit?  And you spend maybe half of the book feeling frustrated because it’s not enjoyable in exactly the way you expected it to be not enjoyable, but then after a while you start liking it a bit better and at the end you feel perhaps a little fond of its heroine and you think you might read another?  And you wonder if it’s the same sort of “think you might have another” that happens when you encounter a new cookie that proves ultimately to be addictive and before you know it you’ve eaten twenty of them, or the sort of “think you might have another” where you want to want another so you go ahead and have another even though you are not sure you really want one?

Well, that’s where I’m at on this book.  The Once Upon a Time Challenge this year is turning into the Deeply Ambivalent Challenge for me here.

Reviews by people not overwhelmed by conflicting motives:

Book Lust
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
The Written World WITH Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Valentina’s Room
Adventures in Reading

Tell me if I missed yours!

Review: Gunnerkrigg Court, Tom Siddell

Can this count as part of the mini-challenge where we read graphic novels with animals in?  Animals are not main characters exactly, but they are around, and rather important.  And I didn’t like the other graphic novel I read for the mini-challenge, so I hereby decree Gunnerkrigg Court counts.  So let it be written; so let it be done.

Gunnerkrigg Court is about a girl called Antimony Carver, who goes to live at a boarding school called Gunnerkrigg Court, following the death of her mother.  (Her father is off somewhere doing some sort of we don’t know what he’s doing.)  It is a webcomic that gets updated three times a week, so if you want to read the whole of it from the beginning, you easily can at its website.  I read the first volume in book form (at the recommendation of Bride of the Book God), and the rest of it at the website. It is still going on!  You have not come to it too late to join the webcomic party!  And Gunnerkrigg Court just gets better and better as it goes on!

Boarding school stories are wonderful.  Gunnerkrigg Court follows Antimony, with her magicky powers, and her best friend Kat, with her sciencey wisdom, as they learn more about the school and the world of science and magic around them.  Their parents were at the school before them, doing magic-and-science type things, and Kat and Antimony find out about that too.  Siddell incorporates elements of different mythologies into the world – Antimony, for instance, encounters Muut out of Egyptian mythology and Reynard from Alsace-Lorrain-ian folk tales.  (I remember that because MY PEOPLE were from Alsace-Lorrain, lo these many years ago, so I used to really like the Reynard myths.)

This is the second of two graphic novels I have read recently that reminded me of a particular good things comics can do, that books can’t.  When a comic is released serially, it can deviate from the ordinary narrative of the series, for one or two issues or even loads of them at a time (cf. World’s End, Dream Country, Fables and Reflections) and tell other stories.  These stories can illuminate some other part of the comic’s fictional world, or expand on the themes of the series, or give you the whole thing from a different character’s perspective.  The story about Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde in The Unwritten contributed something to the reader’s understanding of the world, definitely, but it wasn’t directly related to Tom (er, as far as I know).  It was its own separate thing.  Similarly, Gunnerkrigg Court has several chapters that are self-contained stories, looking into characters’ backgrounds, or just letting the characters have some fun.

I guess books can do this – cf. American Gods – but it tends to irritate me, when it’s a book.  I am all, STOP IT.  LET ME GET BACK TO MY STORY.  I am all, WHERE ARE SHADOW AND MR. WEDNESDAY? and I stomp about in a temper.

Other reviews:

Bride of the Book God (thanks for the recommendation!)
Reading Rants
Paradoxical

Tell me if I missed yours!

Review: The Unwritten, Vol. 1, Mike Carey and Peter Goss

For the Graphic Novel Challenge!

The Unwritten is about a guy called Tom whose father – long since disappeared without a trace – wrote an incredibly popular series of books about a character with Tom’s same name: Tommy Taylor.  However, it turns out that all the paperwork proving Tom is his father’s son has been forged.  At first it is theorized that he is a fraud, the son of Romanian peasants; then people begin to believe that he is, in fact, Tommy Taylor, brought into existence by the stories themselves.  The word made flesh.

The Unwritten is set in London, a place with whose literary history Tom is very familiar.  His father was always telling him stories about the places in England and how they connect to books and authors – this plays into the unfolding of the plot and will, I expect, do so more and more as the series goes on.  There is one scene that is set at the Globe, the Globe that I love, you don’t even know and words cannot express how much I love the Globe Theatre.  It is like Mike Carey wants to say, “I love literature and I know that you do too!”  If fiction is going to be meta, it should be meta exactly like this.

The final issue included in this first volume of the graphic novel is all about Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde.  While not closely connected to the main plotline, it does give us a glimpse into the means and methods employed by the villains and how it relates to stories and literature.  Also?  It has Oscar Wilde in it.  Oscar Wilde!  I love him so!  He was such a dear darling when he wasn’t being awful!

Two things that I like a lot are Oscar Wilde and London.  And metafiction – three things.  The three things that I like a lot are Oscar Wilde, and London and metafiction, and fictional characters coming to life.  Four – no.  Amongst the things that I like are such elements as Oscar Wilde, London – I’ll come in again.  (Sorry, XKCD.  I know you don’t like it when people do that.)

I have given in to temptation and subscribed to this comic on HeavyInk.  I know I shouldn’t be spending money on single issue comics, given that I will probably end up buying the collected volumes as proper books when they are released, but I cannot resist the alluring notion of getting comics each month, all wrapped up in crinkly brown paper.  Oh, HeavyInk, you seduce me with your sexy packaging.

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
The Literary Omnivore
Adventures with Words
Bibliofreak

Tell me if I missed yours!

Review: Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones

So Fire and Hemlock is a retelling of the ballad “Tam Lin”, but it incorporates elements from a dozen other fairy tales, myths, and legends.  I read this article one time that Diana Wynne Jones wrote, about the process of writing Fire and Hemlock and all the different strands of stories she used, which was quite, quite interesting.  The story begins with a young woman called Polly, who is packing her things for Oxford and has come across a book that she remembers being quite different to what it is now.  This leads her to the realization that she has two sets of memories, one perfectly ordinary and one – not quite.  She begins to remember a man called Tom Lynn, whom she befriended when she was ten years old, and with whom she created an imaginary, heroic world, the contents of which developed an alarming habit of coming (more or less) true.

You know what I love the most about this book?  The fact that even when they have lost touch he continues to send her books all the time, and she always reads them.  I have written something a bit like this into a story of mine because I love the idea so much.  How brilliant to have somebody with the same taste in books as you, constantly sending you wonderful things to read.  Wouldn’t it be good to have a book dealer like that?  Sending you books?

Okay, I’ll shut up about that.  There are other things in this book that are better and more relevant than just the book-sending.  These are a bunch of excellent characters and a set of true relationships – Polly’s fascination with Nina as a child and her developing a deeper friendship with Fiona; the okay-fine-then relationship she has with Seb; Ivy’s ways of moping and clinging.  As well as being a good fantasy story, this is one of the better growing up and figuring yourself out stories I’ve ever read.  You can see the influences everybody is having over Polly throughout her life (Nina, Ivy, Granny, Fiona, Tom), and it’s so interesting to see her noticing them and sorting out what she wants to do about them.  Because that’s just how it does work: You figure out what bits of other people have blended into you, and you decide whether it’s bits you want to keep.

Then of course this is also a book that produces an excellent mixture of myths and real life, funny and serious, endearing and creepy.  The family of Leroy, which has its hooks into Tom in some way Polly can’t quite figure out, is thoroughly unpleasant, and they spy on her and make whirling men out of garbage and scary living robot things.  Ick.  I love the idea of someone having two sets of memories, because that is cool.

And um – I am squirming with embarrassment as I bring this up – there’s this one bit where Polly spends a massive amount of time and energy writing a long book about the adventures of the fictional versions of herself and Tom, the hero personas she has made up for them, and – and – and, you know, she’s young and she’s in the throes of having written a whole book all by herself, and Tom writes back to her Sentimental drivel and then writes an even longer letter about how stupid this one particular scene is (what a mean, mean, mean meanie!  She’s fourteen years old!).  Oh, God, I hate that part of the book.  Polly reads back over the book she wrote, and she realizes it’s awful, and every single bit of it makes her cringe.  I read Fire and Hemlock to my little sister a few years ago, and I could hardly manage to read this section out loud.  I know exactly how she feels.  Poor little sausage.

Fire and Hemlock. Better than all of Diana Wynne Jones’s other books, and withdrawal from which is responsible for my spending a very pleasant afternoon sitting outside in the cool sunny weather and reading Tam Lin straight through from beginning to end.  Thank you, Pamela Dean, for writing a book to keep me from the agonies of Fire and Hemlock withdrawal.

Other people’s reviews:

Tales of the Reading Room
Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog (my friend Jane was squicked out by the end, by the way, but it didn’t bother me at all – everything had been leading up to it, I thought)
Dog Ear Diary
things mean a lot
Geranium Cat’s Bookshelf
Book Nut
Valentina’s Room
Fiddle-Dee-Dee’s Not English
everyday reads
Rhinoa’s Ramblings
Epiphany

Tell me if I missed yours!

Writing swear words in the margins (Review: Deep Secret, Diana Wynne Jones)

I was trying to figure out, earlier today, what year it would have been that I started reading to my little sister.  I have read her scads of books over the years, but I’m pretty sure the first one was Half Magic, and I’m pretty sure that after finishing it, we went straight on to Magic by the Lake, which means I must have had them both at the time.  I have definite proof that I got Magic by the Lake for Christmas of 1995.

Let’s say I started reading to Social Sister early in 1996.  That was fourteen years ago now.  We read a lot of books together.  I mean we shared a room in our childhood!  It’s not like either of us had to make any big effort to get together and do some reading.  Plus, my family had a big car trip every summer to Maine, which meant three solid days of driving to get there, and three solid days of driving to get back.  That is a lot of time to read.  There are times when we got strapped for books to read next.

I mention this because I wouldn’t have bought Deep Secret if I had had some easy alternative of what to read Social Sister instead.  I had decided to read it to her in the time between finally deciding I liked it, and actually buying a copy.  I liked it easily well enough to buy it, but the one they had in the YA section at Bongs & Noodles had a stupid-looking cover:

The back cover blurb is stupid too!  I didn’t want to buy that stupid book.  I was just going to read to Social Sister from our oldest sister Anna’s copy, but there were pages missing out of the front of that copy.  So I sighed heavily to make sure Anna knew how severely she was inconveniencing me by having a damaged book; and also to impress upon Social Sister the painful and difficult nature of the sacrifices I had to make on her behalf; and I bought the stupid copy of Deep Secret and resigned myself.

(I always wanted Social Sister to be pretty clear on how kind I was being to read to her at all.  When I finished a chapter, and was willing to go on and read another chapter, I would start to close the book very slowly while keeping my place with my finger, and I’d say, “And maybe next time—” which was Social Sister’s cue to start howling and begging for me to continue.  She’d screech and plead and grovel, and after several minutes of this I’d sigh and say grudgingly, “Well – okay”.  It was sort of control-freaky.  I AM NOT PROUD.)

It turned out that in addition to having a stupid cover and a back-cover blurb made out of fail, this copy of Deep Secret had been censored to make it more kid-friendly.  All the swear words had been changed into less sweary words (except the ones that hadn’t – it was very inconsistent), and anything that would have implied that anyone, anywhere, was thinking about having sex (mind you, this book is set at a fantasy fiction convention) had also been removed.  They left in all the violence though – some pretty violent violence!  It was an idiotic way of doing it.

I didn’t appreciate it.  I so much didn’t appreciate it that I read out of the stupid copy to Social Sister with a pen and Anna’s old copy in my other hand, and I checked the versions against each other and made corrections in the margins of the stupid copy.  I did it straight through.  Here is a sample (I chose these pages as an extreme example – in most of the book it’s just a few swear words here and there) (and sorry about the fuzzy edges – I was trying to scan these without cracking the book’s spine):

So reading it was sort of like this:

I apologized – (Brace yourself, Social Sister, there’s a bother coming up, and I suspect not naturally).  One of the six said, Bother – oh, for heaven’s sake!  Bother!  I mean they didn’t mind us seeing that kid get executed at the beginning, or all the business with the sticky drippy blood a little while ago, but they can’t bear the idea that we might read the word Damn in a book marked as appropriate for ages 12 and up.  Social Sister, don’t you feel that a majority of kids ages 12 and up know the word Damn already?  There, I’ve fixed it.  One of the six said Damn, and Social Sister, let’s be clear, one of the six said damn, damn, damn, and before that they said damn the convention and damn the centaur-”

“I like the centaur,” said Social Sister.

“Nobody cares what you like!” I howled.  “I am on a mission to restore the smut to desmutted books!  And this part says, One of the six said Damn, and everyone is having an orgy in the stairwell, and if they didn’t like the way she wrote the damn book in the first place then they shouldn’t have published it!  This asinine bowdlerization is an insult to the intelligence of every person ages twelve and up!”

Luckily there was a heat wave in London when I was there in 2005, which forced me to spend all my time in the air-conditioned bookshops on Charing Cross Road, and while I was there, I found an undesmutted copy of Deep Secret with, moreover, a rather cool and understated cover that does not embarrass me when I am out in public with it.

So I need never worry about that ridiculous copy again.  I have given it to Social Sister, who professes to be madly fond of it.

I have posted this pocket drama of sisterhood and smuttiness rather than reviewing Deep Secret because – well, mostly because I think it is funny.  Also because if you do not believe me by now that Diana Wynne Jones is an amazing writer, indeed that she is just everything that is great about being great, then you never will.  If you do believe me, and just haven’t read Deep Secret, I highly recommend it.  It starts out a bit boring, and you don’t think you’re going to love the characters, but if you push past that, the characters all end up at a fantasy convention and are totally lovable.  WORTH IT.

(The Guardian and Orson Scott Card both rhapsodize rhapsodically about Diana Wynne Jones and her varied ways of being amazing.)

Do you choose your reading material for public places (trains, waiting rooms, classes at university) based on how unembarrassing the covers are?  I’d like to say that I don’t but honesty compels me to admit that it is a consideration.

Reviews of Deep Secret:

Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
Books and Other Thoughts
Bart’s Bookshelf

Tell me if I missed yours!

Chrestomanci Chrestomanci Chrestomanci

I can’t get any posting done for heaven’s sake!  I have finished and not reviewed five books I was planning to review.  There are two more books sitting atop the bookshelf by my bed, nearly finished but I don’t want to actually finish them because then I’d have seven books that I was planning to review that I haven’t reviewed yet.  Peter and Max and The Book of Secrets will just have to wait.  I AM ONLY HUMAN.

In a frenzy of love for Diana Wynne Jones, I fetched out Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, and Conrad’s Fate – they are the ones that feature Chrestomanci as a main character, and I call them the C books, loftily ignoring at least six other books with C-words in the title – and read them all very fast, gobble gobble gobble.  They are not my favorites of all her books, but I was exactly in the mood for them.

The Chrestomanci books were the first DWJ books I picked up after finding The Tough Guide to Fantasyland amusing. and I felt so let down by them.  From The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, I was expecting that same kind of thing, high fantasy that played with high fantasy clichés.  I was expecting, essentially, The Dark Lord of Derkholm.  But what’s good about Diana Wynne Jones is that she manages to write oodles of YA fantasy novels without ever doing the same thing twice.

Virtue though this is on her part, it has led to some pretty severe frustrations on mine.  I read Deep Secret expecting it to have the same Edwardian-but-with-magic setting, only to abandon it in a huff when I found it was closer to being urban fantasy; once I grew to love Deep Secret, I got mad at its sort-of sequel The Merlin Conspiracy for being more country and wildernessy.  I was cross with The Homeward Bounders for not being Power of Three, and then cross with Archer’s Goon for not being The Homeward Bounders, and I am not quite over being cross with The Ogre Downstairs for not being Archer’s Goon.  I may never forgive Hexwood for not being Deep Secret.  Why isn’t Hexwood Deep Secret, anyway?

Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, and Conrad’s Fate are the three books that are sort of about being Chrestomanci.  (And maybe The Pinhoe Egg but I have not read it enough times to be sure.)  In Charmed Life, orphan siblings Cat and Gwendolen come to live at Chrestomanci Castle, Gwendolen seeking to carry out the rather nasty plans of her magic tutors, and Cat simply wanting to be looked after.  This does not prove a good desire for Cat, and the book turns on his claiming agency – not at Chrestomanci’s behest, or to help Gwendolen, but because he wants to manage his own life himself.

The Lives of Christopher Chant tips us backward to Chrestomanci’s youth, when he is a young boy called Christopher with useless parents and a penchant for traveling to alternate worlds (which he calls “Anywheres”).  (Everyone in DWJ’s books has useless parents.  Even the nice parents are useless.)  Christopher’s shady uncle Ralph employs him to bring things back from the other worlds, which Christopher does because he admires Uncle Ralph desperately.  As the reader can see from the beginning, Ralph is Up to No Good, but he is dashing and has a winning smile; whereas the old man Chrestomanci that Christopher has to go live with?  Old and cranky.  So this one’s about Christopher being slung between these two opposing forces in the world of magic, and figuring out where he wants to align himself.

Then Conrad’s Fate is set in a whole different world, one of Christopher’s Anywheres, more properly called Series Seven.  Conrad works in a bookshop near the grand mansion of Stallery, and in Stallery there are magicians who keep changing the world slightly.  The magicians in Conrad’s town realize that Conrad has an Evil Fate left over from a previous life, a Fate that can only be expiated if he kills the person he was supposed to kill in his last life.  Conrad is to take a place as a servant at Stallery in order to kill the person, and get rid of his Evil Fate.  While there, he meets Christopher, an arrogant, charming enchanter from another world, who is taking a place as a servant at Stallery too, in order to find a friend of his that’s gone missing.

This is my point about Diana Wynne Jones.  Even when she’s writing in the same world for several books, Diana Wynne Jones takes the world and swivels it, and gives us it again from a different angle, so that the books in the series end up being very different.  We see Chrestomanci as his adult self in Charmed Life, terrifying and vague and polite; we see him as a child, from his own perspective, in Lives of Christopher Chant; and we see him at a halfway point in Conrad’s Fate, through the eyes of a kid who doesn’t, necessarily, appreciate Christopher’s high-handed approach to life.

What I’m trying to say is this: If you have tried DWJ and only liked one of her books, you may be suffering from the same expectations gap that plagues me every time I read a new one of her books. The key may be to start her books having absolutely no expectations at all. In fact it was foolish of you even to read this review.

Review: Witch Week, Diana Wynne Jones

I am selectively craving Diana Wynne Jones right now.  Diana Wynne Jones is so great that I’ve devoted nearly half of the spinning bookshelf my father made me to her books alone.  (The spinning bookshelf denotes great favoritism and also contains Martin Millar, J.K. Rowling, and Rumer Godden.)  (Er, just so we’re clear, it doesn’t spin perpetually, like those spinny restaurants.  It’s more like spinning earring racks at gift shops, except bigger and wooden and it has books on it rather than accessories.)

Does anyone else take great notice of words whose letters are all standards, which is to say, letters that neither stretch tall (like t) nor drop low (like g)?  All-standard words include scarecrows, savannas, and renascence; if you are willing to fudge a bit and include the letter i (like I am), you can have reconnaissance and accessories, which is what brought this to mind in the first place.  What’s also fun (if you are a total dork already) is to find words that are all standards and can be typed with only one hand, like scare and raze and verses.  Continuing on the assumption that you are a total dork, it might please you to know that the bottom row of your keyboard has six standards, the middle two, and the top six again; that the bottom row has the fewest non-standards (only one); and that the top row has a pleasing and palindromic (if you count i as standard) pattern of non-standard, standard standard standard, non-standard non-standard, standard standard standard, non-standard.

But, Witch Week.  It’s set in an alternate world quite like ours, except there is magic there, and the magic is illegal.  If a witch is caught, she or he is burned straightaway.  Mr. Crossley, the English teacher of Class 6B at the Larwood House boarding school, is dismayed, therefore, to find an anonymous note amongst his textbooks accusing someone in 6B of being a witch.  Is it plump, unpopular Nan Pilgrim, descended from the famous Archwitch Dulcinea Wilkes?  Is it perpetual victim Brian Wentworth, the deputy headmaster’s son?  Charles Morgan with the evil stare and the encoded journal?

(Not telling.)

I’ve said I like Diana Wynne Jones because her characters tend to move from selfishness to self-awareness; I also like her because her nicest characters have flaws (which they learn to work around), and her nastiest ones have virtues (which sometimes get lost in their pursuit of – well, whatever it is).  Her books do not look kindly on small-mindedness or selfishness, in the villains or the heroes.  The day gets saved when people overcome their fear and selfishness and act like their best selves.  Not in a moralizing way.  Just in a, sort of, look how good humans can be sort of way.

Spoilers in this paragraph only!  And if you have read Witch Week already, please tell me what you think about this.  I ordinarily come away from a Diana Wynne Jones book feeling absolutely satisfied with the ending, even if it’s a quite sad ending (Homeward Bounders breaks my heart every time); with Witch Week I never feel this way.  Their whole world disappears at the end!  It is less than ideal!  And sure, they end up with a nicer version, but they don’t get to be witches anymore!  Plus, how come the unpleasant boys – Dan Smith & Simon Silverson – get to stay at Larwood, and even be friends with the sympathetic characters, while the unpleasant girls – Theresa and her lot – all get shipped off to the other school?  Hmph.

It took me several tries to like Witch Week, which is typical of my relationship with Diana Wynne Jones’s writing, but now it’s one of my favorites.  Whereas my little sister, to whom I read many DWJ books aloud in our youth, has never warmed to it.  If you are thinking of reading it, I’d suggest reading Charmed Life first, just because – well, mainly because I like Chrestomanci, and I feel you will appreciate him more as a character in Witch Week if you are already familiar with him and his awesomeness.

(awesomeness – all standards.)

I have not said enough about Diana Wynne Jones on this blog.  The extent of my love for her is not adequately reflected here.  But all that’s going to change, my friends.  I love Diana Wynne Jones and I am totally in the mood to reread all the Chrestomanci books, and the Dalemark Quartet, and the books with the Magids, and the books with Howl; and I suspect I am in the mood to give those of her books that I haven’t been mad about in the past another chance.  I am counting 23 of her books that I could totally go for right now.

Other reviews:

the stacks my destination
Puss Reboots
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Let me know if I missed yours!

Two more short reviews

Sheesh, I just can’t get it together to write proper reviews this month.  So here are two unproper ones.

One Perfect Day, Rebecca Mead

I love the title of this book, but it wasn’t as SHOCKING as I had hoped.  I was anticipating lots of SHOCKING anecdotes about the SHOCKING American tendency towards excess in weddings.  And there was a bit of that, sure, but the book is properly called One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, and it is indeed mainly focused on the selling and marketing of weddings.  Mead talks about many aspects of the marketing – popular wedding locations like Vegas, selling of dresses, wedding planners, and bridal magazines.  The wedding industry is very industrious, but not very SHOCKING.  I want to read more about weddings, with hopefully more SHOCKING stuff, and more about the wedding participants versus the wedding industry people.  Thanks to Schatzi for the recommendation!

Power of Three, Diana Wynne Jones

And now for something completely different: one of the very few books by Diana Wynne Jones that I truly loved the first time I read it. Power of Three is about three races of people that live on a Moor – regular people, who live in mounds under the Moor; Dorig, who live in the water; and Giants, who are – you know – us.  The titular Three are the three races, or else the three Powers (Sun for the regular people, Earth for the Giants, and Moon for the Dorig), or else the three siblings – Ceri and Ayna and Gair.  There are many groups of three in the book, lots of sets of three powers coming together.

Diana Wynne Jones always writes a disconnect between how characters perceive themselves, and how others see them, and their emotional journeys always lead to self-awareness.  Hooray for self-awareness, perhaps the personal quality most valued by me in myself and other people.  The “regular people”, Ayna and Gair and Ceri, understand the world in one way at the start of the book – they are people, and the Dorig and Giants are enemies to be feared – and they gradually find that they’re all, essentially, the same.  It’s nice.

Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke

House of Leaves put me in the mood for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I can’t account for because they are two wildly dissimilar books.  House of Leaves is terribly modern and American and all sort of up in your face, and Jonathan Strange is set in early nineteenth-century England (alternate England, but still) and is much with the fairies and book-learning and wry gentility.  Anyway I fetched out my convenient three-volume box set of paperbacks, and I read it starting in 2009 and finished in 2010.  There should really be a word for a book you start one year and finish the next year so go invent one!

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is all about magic coming back to England.  In the Napoleonic War times, it is widely known that there are no practical magicians in England at all, only theoretical ones who read about magic in books and don’t do any themselves.  Except that a practical magician turns up hoarding books in Yorkshire, a selfish, querulous old man called Mr. Norrell who is determined to bring magic back to England.  Good magic, which in Mr. Norrell’s opinions means nothing to do with the fairy realms and absolutely nothing to do with England’s magical, legendary king, John Uskglass.  Then a wealthy, idle young man called Jonathan Strange, in an attempt to impress the girl he wishes to marry, decides to be a magician too (and is good at it – calling him wealthy and idle gives the wrong idea about his magical abilities).  Things go on from there.  They help to defeat the French by using magic.  A slave called Stephen is helped (or persecuted) by a mysterious fairy gentleman with thistle-down hair.

The nice thing about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is it’s long?   But you don’t have to feel daunted by it, because you can probably tell in about five chapters whether it’s your sort of book or not; if not, you can stop reading; if it is, then hooray, there’s tons of it ahead!  The first five chapters – the first chapter by itself, really – gives you an excellent idea of how the book is going to go.  Some drastic things happen, but not without a lot of explanation; there are a lot of footnotes; the writing is amusing but probably won’t make you laugh out loud.  I knew straight away I was going to love it.  The footnotes don’t tend to be germane to the story, but they’re full of backstory and – I don’t know, sidestory? – and tidbits from the history of this alternate England.

I read this in early 2006, and since then I managed to forget nearly every significant plot point.  I remembered Jonathan Strange going off and becoming Wellington’s useful magician; I remembered the business with Lady Pole’s finger; I remembered whole sentences verbatim that the gentleman with the thistle-down hair says to Stephen Black.  But I had it in my mind that Childermass was the Raven King all along, and that Mr. Norrell ended up going to live with the King of England, and I’d completely forgotten whole plotlines (like the Greysteels – they showed up and I was all, who are these fools?).  Reading it again was like reading it for the first time.  A perfect book for the holidays.

Review: Chalice, Robin McKinley

So this is my adult fantasy or science fiction book for Jeane‘s DogEar Challenge, and I have managed to finish it before the end of November, which I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do, what with all the applying to grad school I’ve been doing and whatnot.  Chalice!

I have figured out the key to Robin McKinley, and I will tell you what it is.  In each of her books, she has a world that she’s created, and she plops you down right in the middle of the world.  By and large, her books are not enormously long on plot, and this is fine as long as you think her world is interesting, and you continue to think it’s interesting.  Dragonhaven, I did not enjoy.  I have never been a big fan of dragons anyway.  But Sunshine, now – the world of Sunshine was all desserts and shiny sharp edges.  When plot wasn’t happening, I was happy just wandering around in Sunshine’s world.

I do not like honey.  Because it’s sticky, and I am tactile-defensive.  I don’t like sticky things or greasy things – when it comes time to clean a butter dish, I’d just as soon buy a new butter dish.  If there were honey dishes, I’d have the same issue.  I’m shuddering thinking about cleaning a honey dish.  Chalice came out ages ago, and I never read it because I don’t like honey.

Chalice is about a girl called Marisol with bees who makes honey.  Following a cataclysmic event that leaves the current Master of the land and his second-in-command, the Chalice, dead, Marisol is chosen by the earthlines as the new Chalice.  Uncertain of herself, trying to teach herself all the rituals she needs to know as Chalice, she is put further off balance when the new Master is named.  Brother of the old Master, he was sent to the priests of Fire, and after seven years is no longer quite human.

Overall, it was better than Dragonhaven, not quite as good as Deerskin, and not within miles of Beauty or Sunshine.  The world was interesting, with the rituals and the magic, but the characters didn’t have much to do throughout the book, up until the anticlimactic, rather too tidy final conflict scene.  If I had to put my finger on a problem, I’d say it was that Marisol was too isolated for too much of the book.  Not just that she had very few allies, but that she had very few interactions with anyone at all, and that made her difficult to know.

I am very full of food right now.

Here is what other people thought, and if I missed your link tell me! and I will add it:

DogEar Diary
Angieville
Em’s Bookshelf
Charlotte’s Library
bookshelves of doom
Once Upon a Bookshelf
Andrea’s Book Nook