Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I've wanted to reread Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, well, pretty much since I first read it (probably in 2004 or 2005 when it was still new).  I have to admit I was a bit nervous though because many readers through the years have decided they couldn't get through it, with its copious footnotes and details. I thought maybe my memories of it were more glowing than the book itself. But, the new BBC miniseries prompted me to get to it now and, though it admittedly took me a couple of weeks to get through it, I enjoyed it again just as much as I remembered having done the first time. It is a glorious novel that builds an entirely believable hidden world of magic, just out of focus from our own world.


The seven-episode miniseries has begun airing this week in the UK and will show on BBC America in the US starting on June 13.

Susanna Clarke wrote in The Guardian about the experience of seeing her novel come to life --
... But nothing, I find, has prepared me for the sight of my own characters walking about. A playwright or screenwriter must expect it; a novelist doesn’t and naturally concludes that she has gone mad. (What do they need so many umbrellas for? Don’t they realise that they are imaginary?) 
... In the part of Wentworth Woodhouse that has been made to look like the House of Commons, Sir Walter Pole smiles and saunters over to speak to me. In a ballroom of immense magnificence Lady Pole and Mrs Strange perform a dance of their own invention; it is both graceful and funny. (Later someone will give me a photograph of it.) Stephen Black looks grave and self-possessed and keeps to the shadows. Childermass – in straightforward Yorkshire fashion – shows me his tarot cards and lets me hold them for a moment: they feel warm and pleasantly rough in the hand. Out of the assembled ranks of fairy dancers the gentleman with the thistle-down hair gives me a friendly wave. (This last, I am willing to admit, is not the least in character.)
 Neil Gaiman wrote in the same simply about why he loves this story --
In February 2004, to my perplexity and my delight, the mail brought an advance, but finished, copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I took my daughters on holiday to the Cayman Islands, and while they romped and swam in the surf, I was hundreds of years and thousands of miles away, in Regency York and in London and on the continent, experiencing nothing but the purest pleasure, wandering through the words and the things they brought with them, and eventually noticing that the paths and lanes of the story, with its footnotes and its fine phrases, had become a huge road, and it was taking me with it: 782 pages, and I enjoyed every page, and when the book was done I could happily have read 782 more. I loved the things she said and the things she did not say.
Perhaps some of you that didn't get through the novel will feel inspired to pick it up again after the miniseries. It's getting favorable reviews claiming that it is true to the book, something that we all hope for every time we see an adaptation being made. And perhaps others of you will do as I did and pick up your already beloved copy again and disappear into the world of magician Jonathan Strange and his mentor, Mr. Norrell.

With a nod to The Raven King,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Upcoming Release: The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy

Almost immediately upon receiving The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks, I knew that Sam Maggs was someone who would understand me. I knew it because she created this, THE GEEK GIRL'S LITANY (which you can also watch above), which is right on the back of the book --
I am a geek girl and I am a feminist.
I embrace the word "fangirl" with open arms.
I don't have to prove my nerd cred to anyone ever.
Whether I'm a comics n00b, or a fic writer typing up her next chapter, or a hardcore gamer who sometimes forgets to sleep (not that I ever do that), no one else gets to decide whether I do or do not belong.
From SuperWhoLock to Shakarian I accept all fandoms and ships as equally meaningful and important in our geek girl lives.
Even if your OTP is my NOTP, I will still like you (though I may have to unfollow your blog).
I will support empowering, lady-created media and amazing female characters that make me feel like I could be Batgirl, if I just had some yellow Doc Martens and a vigilante complex.
I'm the Doctor, not a companion; Buffy not Bella; nobody's sidekick, love interest or token female.
I'm driving this ship.
I'm a fangirl, a feminist, and a force to be reckoned with.
I've known inside for years that I was a fangirl but I also felt like I was a bit shabby at it. I don't really collect anything besides movies and books. I never write fan fiction or ship any characters (except for frequently imagining myself, Oliver Queen, and a salmon ladder in the same room ... ahem). I have never attended a con. I don't have any geeky tattoos. I don't even know half of the acronyms that the twitter-residing fangirls use.


Now I have validation from Sam Maggs that loving the things that I do love in the way that I love them is enough. My simple Doctor-Hoo shirt is just as valid as someone else's amazing Tardis dress. Watching every Studio Ghibli movie chronologically counts the same as having, admittedly, the coolest Totoro bed in the world. And having watched every Star Trek episode (except any of Enterprise ... blech) is as Trekkie as putting on a tiny red dress or prosthetic ears. Every kind of fan and geek is authentic, and, if each fangirl and boy everywhere (including me) abides by Sam's rules about being respectful and kind to other fans, we can all live in a great big, beautiful, nerdy world together.

So, what else is actually in this book besides validation? Intros to a few fandoms, some slang terms, interviews with geek goddesses, tips about fan fic and cons, and lots more. There's tons of goodness in this tiny book and I highly recommend it to all fangirls and guys, both aspiring and pros.

Normally I don't post early about books -- and this one isn't out for two weeks (May 12) -- but Quirkbooks has a great pre-order deal going where you can score swag. Check it out if you're interested!

Finally owning it,

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Read-a-Thon Day! Woohoo!

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon starts in 15 minutes! As is the case every time I do this though, I am not going to be available at the start due to, well, sleeping. I am just not the type of person who can do 5am, even for something as awesome as read-a-thon. So, after waking up at a reasonable time, my plan is basically this --

9am-ish: Get a crockpot of chili going for dinner while listening to The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett.
9:30-ish: Keep listening to my audiobook while I make my traditional read-a-thon breakfast of scones and tea. I'm feeling blueberry this time.
10am-ish: Plop down on the couch, in front of a fire, with my cozy blanket and enjoy this lovely stack of books for the rest of the day!

Books of Magic - Neil Gaiman & others
Moone Boy - Chris O'Dowd and Nick V. Murphy
Scott Pilgrim volumes 1-6 - Brian Lee O'Malley
The Foundling - Lloyd Alexander
The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
A Wild Ride Through the Night - Walter Moers

I have gone with mostly graphic novels this time for a change. I've been working through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for the past week and a half so I wanted something less heavy (literally). I might still pick that up for a bit though too.

And with my books, of course, I will be enjoying snacks! I have all of these horribly bad for me goodies (Pringles, zebra popcorn, churro bites, white chocolate pretzels, more chocolate), some fruit for smoothies and snacking, and, of course, lots of black tea. I've also used these snacks to bribe Z and the husband into joining me for the day. Yay!

I will mostly be hanging out on Twitter and instagram rather than writing up lots of blog posts so check for my updates there, starting in a few hours. Woot!! (I'm not sure this has come across yet but I am super excited for another read-a-thon!!!)

Are you joining the read-a-thon today? (It's never too late!) What are you looking forward to?

Hitting the books,

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cleaning the Slate: A Bunch of Quick Reviews

This is the stack of books that has been sitting next to my computer and growing, waiting for reviews to be written. I'm tired of looking at it and stressing about writing back reviews so you are going to get a quick rundown of these books. If there are any you would like more thoughts about, just let me know!

Starting from the bottom with the ones I read in ... gulp ... February --

Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan
My notes on this book say "not special but solid". If you want to read a wonderful book of this type (dual narrative in time), read Kate Morton. Her mysteries are much more spectacular and shocking. If you've already read all of Morton's books and can't wait until the new one in October, then pick this one up this summer!

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
I hated every character in this book. I hated their personalities and I hated the things they did. But it was such a well-written book that I couldn't take my eyes off the train wreck! This one ranks toward the bottom of Sarah Waters' books for me but it was still quite readable and I could imagine rereading it at some point.

The Suicide Shop by Jean Teulé
Wow. This novella about a shop run by a French family that sells methods for committing suicide blew my mind and broke my heart. Black humor followed by utter blackness. I loved it but the ending turned that love to hate in less than a handful of words. This is one book where you just can't read the end first. It would taint your entire reading experience. And now everyone wants to pick it up and read those words, right? But I promise you, you will ruin everything. Just go find this one and read it (or don't if you don't want your heart broken into a million pieces).

My Real Children by Jo Walton
My first Jo Walton fiction! Finally! It blew my mind. The premise is that an aging woman in a memory care facility has clear memories of two entirely different lives, hinging on the moment she decided to marry a man or not. She has different children, different partners, and a really different life experience based on that one decision. I loved this thought experiment and I loved Walton's writing. I will probably read more by her this year.

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Bottom line, if you loved Seraphina, you will love Shadow Scale. It's a really different story from the first but the amazing characters are still there and there are super crazy things that happen (both good and bad). This is only a two-book set so it's not a lot of time-investment from start to finish. Just know that both books are a bit slow at the start but their overall thoughtfulness is ultimately a strength.

The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing
I hadn't read any noir lately so I grabbed this one. It was not great. A lot of the prose was ham-fisted, the ending was too ambiguous, and the characters were completely one-dimensional. This wasn't the worst book I've ever read but I wouldn't ever read it again.

The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
I'm just going to mention this here because I really want to do a full post on it soon. Bottom line: it's a much deeper book than it looks like from the outside!

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
This was an unexpectedly great book. I have only read Until You Reach Me and I loved that but this one was so different, I wasn't sure. It was so much packed into a very small book. I don't want to spoil anything about it but the basic premise is that a family moves from their house into an apartment building and the son meets a very strange friend there. Gah. That is such a sterile description but this story was anything but. Just trust me and read it. It's another quickie!

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
This was one of my planned rereads for this year and I'm glad I took the time for it. I had forgotten so much about it but just knew that I really liked it the first time. Well, I did again! If you're wondering what type of book it is, his acknowledgements at the end say it all --
"As always, I'm indebted to too many writers to list, but particularly important to this book are Joan Aiken, Clive Barker, Lewis Carroll, Norton Juster, Michael de Larrabeiti, Tanith Lee, Walter Moers and Beatrix Potter. Particular thanks are due to Neil Gaiman for generous encouragement and for his indispensable contributions to London phantasmagoria, especially Neverwhere."
If those names are on your list of favorite authors, you will probably love this book too. I wish that Miéville would write another children's book. If it was set in Un-London, I wouldn't mind either.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
I picked this one up for a lot of reasons. One was magic. Another was alternate Londons. Finally, there was a bit of fangirlishness about it out there that I couldn't resist. What I wasn't expecting was just how action-packed and truly dark this book is. I was frequently shocked at violent events and the fact that no character was safe from peril. I look forward to reading the second book in the series later this year!

My next post will be kicking off the readathon on Saturday morning. If you haven't signed up yet and want to join over 1200 people that are reading together for 24 hours, go get the deets on the Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon site!

Breathing a bit easier,

Monday, April 20, 2015

Giveaway: Trigger Warning

It's my birthday today. It's a big, yucky one and I've been grumpy about it for weeks. So, what is a old lady girl supposed to do to feel better? How about giving away a nice hardcover Neil Gaiman? Entry is easy -- just leave a comment below and let me know you want the book and one thing that makes you feel better on a bad day. I'll make this open internationally, winner to be chosen on 4/27. (Be sure I have a way to contact you!)

Not going gracefully,

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New-ish Release: Greenglass House

I have lots of books sitting here waiting to be reviewed but I finished this one yesterday and I loved it so much that it skipped the queue! Greenglass House by Kate Milford is everything I've ever wanted in a middle grade story, both kid-me and adult-me. This story has

  • smugglers
  • thieves
  • local history
  • mysterious maps
  • role-playing games
  • like, a million mysteries
  • an adoptive family
  • Christmas
  • snow
  • a creaky old house with an attic full of goodies and stained glass windows
  • evening stories by a fireplace
  • folktales
The way this all comes together is brilliant. Milo is the Chinese adopted son of the Pines, owners of Greenglass House, a smugglers' inn on the east coast. It's the first day of his winter vacation and he's excited because the inn is usually empty at this time of year, which means free time for him and his parents. Unexpectedly, though, guests start showing up and they are a strange bunch. Luckily, a friend also shows up for Milo and they begin a private role-playing adventure that eventually gets put to use in solving some very real mysteries.

I told my husband around mid-book that we would have both LOVED this book as a kid. I loved it now. I think Z will love it. I want to read it again and again. I want to go to a smugglers' inn and search through the attic. And ... I want to start reading as many other Kate Milford books as I can get my hands on.

Seriously in love,

p.s. I posted about another great middle grade book, Each Little Bird That Sings, today at The Estella Society.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Pair of Shorts: Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link

I'm way behind on reviews so
a) since I bought these books together on the same day (I had to get my signed Gaiman!)
b) they're both short story collections
c) the two authors are at least friendly (I'm not sure if they're officially friends or not but I have a feeling they are),
I'm going to let them share one post!

First, I read Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances. Now that I am usually pretty current with all of Neil's various undertakings, I had read a few of these stories in their primary works/collections. Still it was nice to revisit those and to also read some new poems and stories.

I choose different ways to record short stories in my Official Short Story Recording Notebook and, for this one, I did ratings of 1-5 with 5 being best. Of the 36 pieces (breaking A Calendar of Tales into each month), I rated 30 of them as a 4 or a 5. Obviously this collection really worked for me, from the awesome "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury" (which made me cry when I first read it in Shadow Show and Neil was not sorry) to "The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains" (which confused me a bit the first time in Stories, clicked when I read the illustrated version, and finally became a favorite this time through), to the brilliant Holmes story "The Case of Death and Honey", and the exceptionally dark "Black Dog", featuring Shadow from American Gods.

I truly think this is a collection that has something for every reader. There will also be lots of stories that will make many readers uncomfortable but it seems that that is partially what Gaiman set out to do with a title like Trigger Warning and stories with "images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming."

I had mixed results with the first collection of stories I read by Kelly Link (her YA-focused Pretty Monsters which I really wish now I hadn't given away!) but I was still looking forward to Get in Trouble. This collection only has nine stories but they were great. I only was unsatisfied with one of them ("I Can See Right Through You"), mostly because I didn't like the characters or care about their dramas. I did mention a fantastic character name on Twitter (Bunnatine!) and Link responded that she got the name from this fabulous lady. And, probably not coincidentally, one of the stories from this collection was also in Shadow Show ("Two Houses") and I enjoyed it even more on this second read.

My biggest (still little) complaint with Pretty Monsters was that the stories were so short that I was left wanting more of the tiny worlds she had created. I didn't feel that at all this time. It was a very satisfying read and Link will be on my list of authors to follow going forward!

Reading short shorts,

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

#DWJMarch Wrap-Up

And we've reached the end of another Diana Wynne Jones March. It wasn't any easier this year, knowing that there will be no new books, no sequels to beloved favorites, no new tales in existing worlds. And yet, it was comforting to visit and revisit her stories, knowing they can never be taken from us.

This month I read The Time of the Ghost, Aunt Maria, Conrad's Fate, The Islands of Chaldea, The Pinhoe Egg, The Spellcoats, and Howl's Moving Castle. My favorite was my reread of Conrad's Fate, especially since I had forgotten some of what happened in the story so I had some surprises in store! I also had a great experience by focusing on female characters this month. I thought about relationships and characters in ways I hadn't before.

Which DWJ book(s) did you read this month?

I'm already thinking about next year's event and considering rereading the Wizard Derk books this summer.

Thank you to everyone who participated in any way this year (Jenny, Lori, Anastasia, Memory, Amy, Sabrina, Lauren, Jean, Chris, Teresa, Stephanie, Marisa, Iris, Kim, Kelly, Belle, Tif, and any others I might have missed)! Sharing the love with all of you makes this event extra special.

Never saying goodbye,

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