Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Wee Free Men Group Read for #MarchMagics

Welcome to our first MarchMagics group read -- THE WEE FREE MEN! Crivens! Though this is the 30th Discworld novel our beloved Sir Terry wrote, it is the first in the Tiffany Aching series and is a fresh take on that also-beloved world. It is billed as a YA series but I feel it is very different in tone to his children's books and fits more with his adult work. It is a story of danger and bravery, complex relationships and motives, and, yes, very ridiculous humor.

Since the plot of this first book is pretty straightforward (fairy queen steals child, protagonist comes to the rescue), how about we talk about the stellar characters today?

One thing that stands out immediately is the fact that Tiffany is only nine years old, doesn't know about her powers, and yet is already super amazing. She's a productive member of the Aching family, making the butter and cheese. She's a babysitter who takes her annoying little brother Wentworth on walks and even sometimes giving him sweeties. She's educated -- at least a basket of produce and a dozen eggs worth! And she's even a matriarch ... well, for a couple of days at least. She's a great protagonist because she's interesting from the start but, because she's so young, has SO much room to grow.

Then there are the titular Wee Free Men. They are thieves and fighters but also have the biggest hearts inside their tiny bodies. And how about that Scots dialect that the Nac Mac Feegles use? I kind of love when a book makes me read out loud inside my head to understand it. And, as Jean just found out, it also makes the audiobook version, read by the inimitable Stephen Briggs, AMAZING.

And, finally, there is the larger-than-life character who isn't even there anymore -- Granny Aching. Her influence on Tiffany, the entirety of the Chalk, and the supernatural world beyond is incalculable. I think the fact that Tiffany didn't even realize she was a witch proved she was one of the strongest ones possible. And yet she did it all as a "simple" solitary shepherdess, whose smoking habit seems a bit gross and whose belief in the medicinal uses of turpentine is horrifying.

So, if you read or reread along this month or even have read it in the past, what are your thoughts on the characters of THE WEE FREE MEN? Share them or any links to your own posts below!

Listening to the toad,

Postscript: Remember to observe a moment of silence on Tuesday (12 March), as we again mourn the far-too-early departure of Sir Terence David John Pratchett OBE.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

House of Many Ways for #MarchMagics / #DWJMarch

The first book I chose to celebrate Diana Wynne Jones with was HOUSE OF MANY WAYS, the third story in the Howl trilogy and one of her final books (2008). I know that we will be reading HOWL together later this month, but the audiobook hold came in early and there wasn't going to be a chance of anything being spoiled since it's a multi-time reread so I jumped right in! (BTW, the audiobook is performed by the stellar Jenny Sterlin.)

Charmain Baker is a young lady raised by helicopter parents and sheltered from anything exciting or interesting. She is, therefore, something of a useless brat who just sits around reading and eating until, one day, she is sent off to tend a sick relative's house -- a relative who happens to be a wizard and who lives in a house that is much bigger on the inside than the outside. She quickly finds his library, an unexpected companion for her magical adventures, and a world that she never knew she belonged in.

Why do I love this book so much? Mostly because it has my favorite thing ever -- the main character finding out that magic exists and that he/she is actually able to use it! Long before Harry Potter, I fell in love with Annabel of NO FLYING IN THE HOUSE (1970) and dreamed of finding out that there was real magic in the world. Now, Charmain does know magic exists but she has been told repeatedly by her parents that it is shameful to perform and so she never studied it in school. So, when she discovers that not only is magic rather useful (the wizard's house is run by magic) but that she is able to perform it, it's life-changing. And where does Wizard Howl come into the story? You'll have to read the book to find out!

Sidenote: As I was looking for a book cover to use, I came across this art/storyboarding by artist Dina Norlund which is very fun! I only wish that she had kept going and added some imaginings of Sophie, Calcifer, and Twinkle.

Still searching for that magic,

Friday, March 1, 2019

#MarchMagics / #DWJMarch is Here!

Today is the day! It's time to start celebrating the lives of two of the best fantasy/sci-fi authors ever -- Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett. It's time to get our revenge on the cruel month that took them from us and use it as a time to escape into the beautiful, funny, and unique worlds they both created.

A reminder: if you want to participate in either of the group reads, here are the dates we plan to finish up reading each book and chat about them:
The Wee Free Men - Saturday, 9 March
Howl's Moving Castle - Saturday, 23 March

These are the books I've chosen for the month. I'll admit that I cheated a bit and started listening to House of Many Ways yesterday. Here's a great Publisher's Weekly interview with DWJ about that book from 2008. I've also got the audiobook of Enchanted Glass and am on the waiting list for a couple of the Pratchett audiobooks. That way, I can easily get through these ten books this month. And if I have more time? Well, I always have more books!

Which books are you planning on reading this month? Share in the comments or on social media, remembering to use the #MarchMagics or #DWJMarch hashtags so that we can find the posts!

Off to High Norland,

Thursday, February 28, 2019

What I've Been Reading

I haven't written an actual book post in a while so I thought I would do a quick catch-up before March Magics starts tomorrow! Here are some of my January and February highlights:

Becoming by Michelle Obama: I listened to this in audiobook because I wanted to hear her own narration and it was such a great choice. I loved that the book focused on more than just her husband and his political job. This was really about her personally and it was enlightening and inspiring.

Murder by the Book by Claire Harman: If you want a nice brief non-fiction set in Victorian London, with a gruesome murder, an appearance or two by Charles Dickens, and a discussion of the trashy "popular" literature of the time, grab this one! I really liked it and it made me want to reread Oliver Twist (though it wasn't the book that possibly inspired a murder).

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal: This has been on my reading list for years but somehow I never really knew what it was about. (It's got magic in a real world setting. My favorite!) If I had, I would have read it AGES ago and would have excitedly anticipated each new release in the series. At least I now have four more books to read as slowly or quickly as I want! I also listened to this one and the author herself read it (she's also a voice actor among other things) and it was so wonderful because they were HER characters and you could hear the voices that she had probably created for them as she wrote.

Home Sweet Homicide by Craig Rice: Of the four American Mystery Classics I've read so far (six were released last year and six more will be out in a couple of weeks), this was my favorite. It's got the cheekiest set of kids who decide to solve a mystery and give the credit to their single mom in order to get her publicity since she's a mystery author. It was ridiculously unbelievable as a story but the fun overrode all of that.

Bluecrowne by Kate Milford: I keep telling you all to read Kate Milford's books because they are the BEST and, well, if you haven't yet, I don't know what else I can do. So, I'll just tell you once again that these are all-ages books masquerading as middle grade. They are intense and so incredibly well-crafted and you can read them in any order because they all skip around but link together. This is the latest one and she already has a new one coming out in November, I think, and I cannot get enough. Everyone should be reading her books!

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders: This book was a crazy ride through an unrecognizable world. I kept being totally shocked by the things that happened but nothing ever felt out of place. Strangely, my favorite thing was the use of words whose meanings had changed after hundreds of years. Something would be mentioned like "lemonade" and then the person would be served a glass of green liquid with weeds in it that tasted slightly sour. I thought about language for days after finishing this book! I didn't think about tidally-locked planets because those are apparently horrifying and I am glad I will never have to migrate to one.

Honorable mentions should go to Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung (a collection of comics/panels that felt oh so real to this introvert), The Ravenmaster: My Life With the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife (a very personal and fascinating memoir), Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (a dark and beautiful story that has restored her to my "must buy" list), The Apparitionists by Peter Manseau (a super fascinating history if you are into spiritualism, photography, or the history of technology), Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal (a crazy good novella), and The Binding by Bridget Collins (a great setup with a slightly predictable plot that still caused all the feels).

I still have more to share with you but need to write some actual posts so those will pop up though the month of March between the ones about my favorite DWJ and Pratchett books!

Reading and reading and reading,

Sunday, February 17, 2019

#MarchMagics / #DWJMarch Readalongs

Thank you all for voting on the Pratchett Read-Along book for next month! Sixty percent of you chose The Wee Free Men so that will be our group read. And I've decided to do that one first so that the rest of the month remains open for those of us that want to keep reading through the Tiffany Aching series.

The schedule for the Read-Alongs:

Sat, March 9 - Discussion for Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men
Sat, March 23 - Discussion for Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle

I'll have a post up on each day but also feel free to write your own blog posts and/or share the book on other social media. I'll probably also have something up on Instagram and Twitter each day.

And, speaking of Howl, did you know that this year is the 15th anniversary of the Hayao Miyazaki movie version?! It will be the first film shown for this year's Studio Ghibli Fest at the beginning of April, if you're interested in seeing it in a theater (and are in the U.S. or Canada).

Are you going to join these group reads? Will it be your first time for either book or are they already favorites?

Making the cheese,

Friday, February 8, 2019

Announcing #DWJMarch / #MarchMagics 2019!

Gather around, friends. It is finally time to talk about our plans for this year's celebration of the lives and stories of two of our favorite genre authors, Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett. In three short weeks, we will get to immerse ourselves in some of the best worlds ever created, feast our minds on some of the best words ever written. So, our theme for this year?

Riches Well-Told!

What does that mean in terms of books? It means we get to read our favorites this year! I want everyone to pick up the books from these authors that never get old, the ones that we've read dozens of times already but plan to read at least a dozen more times.

my DWJ and Pratchett shelf (except for the books that don't fit)
As I look at my shelves, I think about how I could easily spend more time with Derk and the griffins, Tiffany Aching, Chrestomanci, and Death. I want to visit Granny Weatherwax's cottage and take a ride in Wizard Howl's castle.

Speaking of ... with all of the talk of the new Folio Society edition, of Howl's Moving Castle, I've decided that this beloved tale will be our DWJ read-along this year. But I would like some help choosing the Pratchett book. So if you can just answer this one question ...

Thanks, everyone! Once I get some answers, I'll set dates for the two read-alongs. Remember when you are posting about this event on social media to use one or the other of the hashtags so that I can find and amplify your posts.

Please leave a comment and let me know if you plan on participating this year!

With joy and love,

Monday, December 31, 2018

So Long, 2018

I was reminded today that this blog still exists so I thought I should swing by to let you all know that I am okay (nothing happened ... just a trip to California, a couple of colds, and some malaise) and that I am mentally making my way back here. I also couldn't miss the opportunity to write up an end of the year summary, especially as I noticed last night that I had finished my *120th* book of the year! Whoa! So, no, it is not my reading that has fallen to the wayside, just my blogging.

In 2018 I ...

  • Read/listened to just over 40,000 pages in 120 books
  • Found time for 20 rereads
  • Enjoyed 11 non-fiction books
  • Journeyed through 7 books in translation (French, Japanese, Spanish x4, German)
  • Listened to 18 audiobooks
My favorite books of the year (in no particular order)
  • The four books of Martha Wells' Murderbot series - All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy
  • The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (and fabulous rereads of the previous three books in the series)
  • The Broken Lands and The Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  • The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller
  • Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland
  • March, Books 1-3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
  • Early Riser by Jasper Fforde (not out yet in the U.S.!)
  • Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
  • The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin (again, not out in the U.S.)
  • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (yes! I finally started this series!!)
  • The Book of Dust, Book One: The Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
I don't know if I'm going to do catch-up posts for any of the books I read over the past two months or if I'll just give myself permission to start with a clean slate. It will probably be the latter. No need to start the new year with a stack of stress!

These are the books I got for Christmas this year and, as you can imagine, some of my most anticipated reads of the new year! I might even reread Persuasion since I have this lovely new edition to replace my old Signet Classics paperback. I'll be starting the year with Kage Baker in print (The Machine's Child) and Michelle Obama (Becoming) on audio. My goals for 2019? I'm not going to make any. I am just going to work through as much of my home TBR (161 books) and my library list (58 books) as I can, choosing whatever I want to along the way and sprinkling in some rereads. I will still host DWJMarch/MarchMagics this spring but will probably have a rather generic topic. As for blogging, I may switch to a more journal-like format for a while, until this malaise and general inability to get my thoughts to coalesce passes. If I stay out of the habit of writing for much longer, this blog is toast!

Anyway, I hope that all of you had a satisfactory reading year and that you have great books to look forward to in 2019! Tell me something you are looking forward to in the comments (if they work for you. I know there are some issues and I can't figure out what is wrong.)

With confetti,

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

#RIPXIII Update 3

I have a HUGE stack of RIP books here to mention to you before the end of the month and the perilous reading season. Grab a cup of tea or cocoa because I'm going to need your attention for a while!

I really wish I had the energy to write a full post about The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin because this was an amazing book. First, it's told in a completely unique way. One point of view is told through images, mental pictures sent from the titular elfin character back to his government. The other point of view is told in words, by a goblin archivist named Werfel, who is hosting Brangwain on his historic state visit after years of animosity. The difference between the two accounts is noticeable and is affected by each character's background and the history they were taught. It's an amazing exposure for middle grade students to the concept of "history being written by the victors". But it's also a darkly funny and infinitely perilous story about how to mend relationships that need not remain fractured. This is such an incredibly timely book and I hope it finds its way into lots of elementary and middle school libraries.

And yay! I finally started Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series with Rivers of London. It was strange to read a modern story because I don't do that very often but once I got used to that, I had a lot of fun with this world and Grant himself. I really do love "magic in the real world" stories! I'll definitely be continuing on with the series and already have the second book from the UK. (They are in trade paperbacks there and only mass market here, which I don't like to read because you have to bend them more.)

I did second reads as listens for The Prisoner of Heaven and The Angel's Game. Rereading this series before diving into Carlos Ruiz Zafón's final book in the group was an inspired idea. Seeing all of the small details fit together and the picture of mid-century Barcelona grow has been a joy. I also liked reading these two in the opposite order from which they were published. I understand why they came out in the order they did originally, with an unreliable narration followed by a more factual account, but I also liked reading them the other way, with a sad history being brushed over by a more palatable, if not-so-accurate account.

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand was a quick trip into a creepy manor house with a British folk band who are recounting the experience years later. I liked the interview format but also felt that it was a little impersonal at times. Still, for a quick little book, it packed a punch and was a perfect RIP tale.

Then, the reason for the season, Hocus Pocus & the All-New Sequel! Written by A.W. Jantha, the first two hundred pages are a faithful retelling of the movie with a couple of minor changes to reflect more modern sensibilities about what are acceptable ways to talk to girls/women. I really liked that update. And then the second three hundred pages is a story about Max and Allison's daughter, Poppy -- her friendships, love life, and accidental summoning of the Sanderson sisters, among other witches. It was a good, solid teenage witch story with some good reveals (lesbians, good witches, the return of Binx) but I didn't fall entirely in love with it. I am also not the target audience so I'm sure that other readers will form a much greater attachment to the tale.

Now I'm caught up to Readathon time, when I got through a bunch of quick little books. The first was Mary Stewart's The Little Broomstick, published in 1971 but experiencing a new life after being made into the film Mary and the Witch's Flower by Studio Ponoc, an animation studio formed by former Studio Ghibli staff members. I love that film and this book is just as good! I'm glad I picked it up.

Next was the second Murderbot novella, Artificial Condition by Martha Wells. I didn't think the story could improve on what happened in the first volume but this absolutely did. I even got teary at a line near the end about hugs. I have the third and fourth (and final) books on my library hold list but I'm going to be buying myself copies of this set at some point. The writing is amazing, the ideas are fresh, and the bite-sized portions are perfect.

I was a bit late to the Kate Milford party so I missed out on some of her earlier Kickstarter projects, like this novella -- The Kairos Mechanism, which happens soon after the events of The Boneshaker and reunites us with Natalie Minks in the odd town of Arcane. Luckily, Milford found a few extra copies around and put them up for sale on her website. (There are three copies left for $55 each, signed by the author and the papercut artist, and including a papercut "pin" in each one.) The depth of her stories always staggers me and this one was no different. I adore the worlds she has created!

My last full Readathon read was this awesome Manga Classics version of The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe. As most of you know, Poe is one of my things and the five stories covered here are done justice with this format. The illustrations and text formatting on The Raven are stellar and I even enjoyed rereading The Masque of the Red Death, which is not one of my favorite Poe stories. This would be a great place for someone to start who is new to Poe.

While I was getting through many of these books, I was listening to David Wong's (actually Jason Pargin's) John Dies at the End, which is a weird title because John dies way before that. But this was a LONG and increasingly crazy horror/humor/sci-fi tale that, for all of its crass jokes, was smart and fun and I really loved listening to it. I'm not sure if I'll go on with the series but I'll definitely watch the movie version sometime soon.

(Almost done!) Next I dove into the first of six books I bought in Penzler Press' new American Mystery Classics series, The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B. Hughes. (The second set of six will be out in the spring of 2019.) This was SUCH a good story! It was dark and frightening and surprisingly violent for a mystery from 1940. I liked the New York setting and will definitely be searching out more of Hughes' books now, especially the three that became films.

And finally, I need to mention my relisten of Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger. That is such an incredible book! If you haven't gotten to it for the first time yet, you really should. It's the most subtle of ghost stories. The true horror, as we can attest to, usually lies is the real world.

I'm finishing out the month by going slowly (as much as I can when I'm so excited about it!) through The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I'm about 200 pages through the 800 page tome and it is amazing. And remember, he has written these books so that you can read them in any order. This one might be a bit intimidating to pick up first because of its size but the story moves along well and is already ridiculously intense.

Well, this is the end of my RIP reading season, friends. Twenty-five books finished, many new favorites found. I got to read the new Jasper Fforde before it comes out in the US and am buried in the latest Carlos Ruiz Zafón -- two of my all-time favorite authors. I got to meet Murderbot! I traveled through time and space and braved murderers, ghosts, monsters, and more. What fun!

Tell me ... did you have a favorite RIP read this year? Also, if you are in the US, have you voted or are you planning to?

Escaping the peril unscathed,