Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize for Literature!

Yayyyy! Huge congratulations to Alice Munro for winning the Nobel Prize for literature. So amazing! Apparently she is the second Canadian and thirteenth woman to win (don’t quote me on these stats. They’re from twitter, ok?).

That’s really all I have to say. So exciting! Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize for Literature

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Playing catch-up…

Well, there are quite a few books I’ve read over the past two months that I haven’t yet written about here. I’m going to say something about a few of them here since most of them have been out for awhile and I don’t have anything earth-shattering to say (as opposed to my usual posts, ha ha).

Book of a Thousand Days reviewI picked up another one by Shannon Hale, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite YA authors. Book of A Thousand Days is about Dashti, maid to Lady Saren. The two are shut up in a tower for seven years after Saren refuses to marry the man her father chose for her. The books details their seven years in the tower, and what happens after the girls leave the tower. Apparently this is based on one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. This wasn’t my favourite book of Hale’s (I found Saren to be pretty annoying, and Dashti seemed limited by Saren’s troubles in comparison to the strong female lead characters in Hale’s other books) but I still enjoyed it.

I ripped through True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks (actually for a course I just finished). This Canadian book won the Governor General’s literary award in 2002 and is about Noreen, a teenaged girl whose life seems to be a pattern of mistakes until she winds up in the small town of Pembina Lake.  Here, she’s forced to confront her choices and think about what she wants. I really enjoyed this one.

Across the Great Barrier reviewI picked up another on of Patricia C. Wrede‘s most recent books (I enjoyed the Magician’s Ward so much!). Across the Great Barrier tells the story of Eff, a young girl living in the borderlands of an alternate wild west. While her best friend and her brother head East to go to prestigious schools, Eff is asked to accompany a professor who is surveying the wildlife in the wild settlement territory, west of the great barrier (a strong magical spell cast to keep out dangerous beasts). I guess this is a sequel to Thirteenth Child, which I have not read. I enjoyed this book but it was a bit slow and I found that Wrede’s world seemed to need a lot of explaining… the characters were great, though.

Next I picked up A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett. I loved Tiffany Aching when I read the Wee Free Men and was glad I found out where her story continues. In this book, Tiffany begins her apprenticeship in magic with an unlikely mentor. When danger searches her out, neither the Nac MacFeegles nor the most powerful witch, Mistress Weatherwax, can protect her. This was a great read. I think the next one about Tiffany is called Wintersmith so I will be on the lookout for that. Pratchett’s voice is great and Tiffany is so easy to love!

I also read a few free e-books, which were atrociously edited but I enjoyed them nonetheless.. The Mating, The Keeping, and The Finding by Nicky Charles were not great literature by any means but they kept me entertained during some very tedious afternoons where I thought boredom was going to steal my sanity. They are romance novels about werewolves. The first two were short and cute, with some juicy (if extremely far-fetched) romance scenes, but the last one was far too long and the plot was a tad ridiculous (even for the romance genre, and that’s saying something) for my taste. I would recommend these to you if you are stuck on a bus or in an airport and don’t want to spend money but need something to fill time. 🙂 (not the most glowing recommendation but there you have it).

Crystal Line reviewLast but not least, I just finished the Crystal Line by Anne McCaffrey. I love this series so wasn’t too surprised that I enjoyed this one. It wraps up Killashandra‘s story and I found that the plot was not predictable – refreshing. The cover is pretty awesome, too. Loving the pink Descente-esque one piece. I was sad to hear that McCaffrey recently passed away. What a legacy of writing to have left behind, though.

Up next, I am very close to abandoning Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I picked it up when I heard, through the recent hype of the last book in the series, that he originally self-published this book, was subsequently picked up by a publisher and has now made some ridiculous amount of money. I am about half way through this and I don’t know if I can do it…  the only reason I haven’t already abandoned it is because I am holding out hope that the next few books will be better, since they will have had the input of an editor (one more impartial than the author’s parents) prior to publication. Anyone with reasons that I should continue, speak up. I’d love to hear ’em.   I also grabbed the second book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, The Subtle Knife, for a dollar. The first few pages had me interested so I may make better progress with this one. I remember liking The Golden Compass but I think it took me awhile to get through that one.

Now we’re all caught up! Aren’t you relieved?

Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn

I read about this somewhere that I now can’t remember, but their description drew me in: A fantasy/sci-fi re-telling of Jane Eyre. Obviously, I was hooked then and there.

I got this one out from the library last week and naturally devoured it. So good! You all know the story of Jane Eyre, I assume, so I won’t get into a detailed plot summary of this one…

Jenna Starborn reviewJenna is born in an artificial womb, commissioned by a wealthy woman who believes she cannot conceive. A few years later, she bears a son and Jenna falls into the shadows. She lives with her ‘aunt’ until the age of 10, when her neglect and mistreatment comes to the attention of medical practitioners. She is given the choice to attend a scientific boarding school on another planet, and jumps at the chance. She goes to school here and gives herself the last name Starborn, as many who were born in artificial environments do. She then works as a teacher at the institution for a few years until she becomes restless. She begins looking around for suitable positions and finds a job on yet another planet as a nuclear technician, responsible for the maintenance and repair of a generator for a private estate. Here she meets and falls in love with Everett Ravenbeck, owner of the estate. But Everett is hiding something… and the rest of the plot you’ll recognize from Jane Eyre.

I thought this was a really unique book, and Shinn tailored Bronte’s classic story to fit Jenna and her world very well. I loved that Jenna played a unique role in the Ravenbeck household (not that of tutor to a child), and yet was still an integral part of the household. Ravenbeck’s ward, Ameletta, has a tutor named Janet who, in a very Austen-esque turn of events, runs off with a wealthy man and ‘ruins her reputation’ so to speak. I thought that part of the plot was an odd inclusion but after thinking about it I realize that it did serve a purpose. I love how Shinn incorporated movement between planets, and the time it took to make those trips — it was a good parallel to the original story. There were a few parts of the book that I felt really dragged, because they were almost following Bronte’s plot by rote (it seemed to me), but they didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book. I really enjoyed this both as a sci-fi novel and as  Bronte para-literature.

I was amazed to discover that Shinn has written many books, and does her writing evenings and weekends because she holds down a full-time job! Whooee, that is amazing.

I haven’t been doing that well at keeping up with things here (as you may have noticed). I have read quite a few books over the past few months that I haven’t yet written about. Right now, I’m reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini and I gotta tell ya, I’m struggling to get through it. I wanted to see what all the hype is about but I don’t know if I will make it through this  book, let alone the entire series.

I also read Griffin’s Shadow by Leslie Ann Moore, sequel to Griffin’s Daughter. It was pretty good. I will probably read the third one in this series too, at some point.

So there you have it. We are getting closer to being caught up!

Gifts by Ursula K Le Guin

I found this on the teen shelf of my local library branch. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before. Not that I am a vigilant follower of Le Guin or anything — I don’t know all of the titles she has published (by far! there are so many)  — but I have been poking around the teen fantasy section a lot this year so I was surprised that I haven’t come across this one earlier. There was a list of some other Le Guin titles in the first few pages and it didn’t include The Left Hand of Darkness, which I consider to be one of her most popular books. Odd, no? I think the titles included in that list were intended to be those appropriate for teens, but really. It was not exhaustive. Though I guess (and probably the most logical answer) these could be just the titles put out by that publisher. Oh, book world, why do you do these confusing things?

Back to the topic at hand. Ahem.

Gifts book reviewGifts is about Orrec, a boy living in the Uplands, where people fear their neighbours because each family has a Gift. Orrec’s family has the gift of unmaking (for the sake of description it could be called the gift of destroying). Orrec is coached from a young age by his father in how to control this gift that will appear for Orrec when he reaches puberty. But as Orrec grows and his gift doesn’t manifest, tension begins to build. Who will protect the farm, the land, if Orrec is known to be without the gift? One day, Orrec’s father asks him to try, to concentrate, and use his gift. When the consequences prove disastrous, Orrec decides that his father must blindfold him to prevent any further destruction. Orrec must now rely on others and come to terms with living as a blind man.

I didn’t love this book, though it was well written. I found that there was an overly ominous suspenseful tone to it, as if something truly terrible were about to happen (more terrible than the disturbing things that do happen in the story). So. As you know, not really my thing. But then the ending was a relatively happy one, which kinda confused me after the ominous tone throughout the rest of the book. Not my favourite Le Guin, but still a good book. I did really like the character of Gry, Orrec’s best friend, and I really liked the size of the book. Easy to hold up and read in bed 🙂

Anyway this book is part of a series (the other titles are Voices and Powers). Not sure if I will be reading the others.

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

Once again I am woefully behind here. Nonetheless, I have been reading so let’s focus on that.

I just finished up Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg. Not surprisingly it is based on Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice. I found it to be very entertaining.

Prom and Prejudice book reviewLizzie is a scholarship student at snobby Longbourn Academy, where the girls are obsessed with prom (the event is covered by Vanity Fair). Lizzie is largely snubbed by her wealthy classmates. Her only friends are Jane, her roommate, and Charlotte, the other scholarship student. With prom fast approaching, Longbourn girls are doing everything they can to line up dates with guys from neighbouring all-boys Pemberley School, and designer dresses to wear to the event. But Lizzie has more important things to focus on, and she meets someone who is so different from all the Pemberley guys that she might actually like him.

The story is very closely based on Austen’s original – names of characters included. It was a quick read and the story was cleverly adapted to modern day. I liked it so much that I went out and grabbed Eulberg‘s other book, The Lonely Hearts Club, from the library. Liked it too. I’m always glad to read good adaptations of my favourite classics, and in this case I was lucky enough to discover a new writer too.

Last month I picked up the graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  It was done by Hilary Burningham and I was surprised to find out how many classics have been turned into graphic novels. A whole new way to enjoy my classics! I can’t wait to pick up the graphic novel of Jane Eyre.

I’ve also read through the Hunger Games series, but don’t feel the need to create a separate post for these books as they aren’t new releases and they’ve been reviewed ad nauseam, I’m sure. Suffice it to say that I picked them up on the recommendation of my sister-in-law, and couldn’t believe how much I liked them. As I’ve mentioned on here before, dystopian fantasy/sci-fi isn’t often my cup of tea (you know, happy ending mandate and all that), but I thought these were fantastic. Katniss rivals Brynn as far as badass heroines go.

Speaking of badass heroines… well, ok, not-so-baddass heroines… I also read  Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa. I wrote about the first novel in the series, Iron King, here.  The concept for Kagawa’s world was still really unique, but the plot wasn’t my favourite and I found that the main character, Meghan, less than badass and actually kinda whiney. I may not read on in the series.

I’m learning so much by reading all these books. Who knew I got so attached to the characters!

 

How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls by Zoey Dean

I read this one between the two Serious Books (well, more serious than my usual fare) I wrote of in my last post. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of substance in the book — far more than the cover or the blurb suggested to me. I’m not saying this is literature. It is what it is. But I did enjoy it, and was surprised by how much. Yesss, beach book.

How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls reviewMegan Smith recently graduated from Yale and is working as a writer for a celebrity gossip mag: not really her thing. She’s not all that surprised when her boss lets her go, but she is surprised by the offer of another position: tutoring two rich teenagers for a few months, until their SAT test. Still struggling with a mountainous student loan, Megan takes the job.

So, not being someone who’s really in touch with the teen television scene, I hadn’t realized that Dean has written about a gazillion books (the A-list series, Gossip Girl series, Pretty Little Liars series, etc etc.), many of which have been turned into TV shows. So, I guess it’s not that surprising that the book is good. She knows how to captivate an audience. This book was even turned into a series. Hmmm, interesting.

Anyway it was the perfect offset to the more un-mandate-like books that I read this past month.

I’m Alive…

I know, you all thought I gave up on this blog. Not true. I won’t, however, sport with your intelligence: no excuses. I’m just lazy. Let’s move on…

I’ve read 11 books since I last wrote a post. (I know, I’m sorry, ok?) Don’t worry, I won’t subject you to a post about every single one. Some of them weren’t that great — no need to have written record of that hanging about.

First, I’ll write about two more books I read that are on everyone’s lists right now: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Not my typical material, I’ll tell you (ok, I may already have told you, in my post about The Help). Both were loaned to me by my sister (thanks!) with very good disclaimers about them not fitting The Mandate. So I was forewarned and had a chance to steel my nerves before cracking the covers.

Water for Elephants reviewFirst, I will say that I do not like the circus. I don’t like books about the circus, or movies about the circus, or clowns, … you get it. I’m not talking about Cirque du Soliel -type circuses. I’m mostly fine with those. I’m talking about creepy, weird-ringmaster-having, sad-animal-displaying, scary-clown-ridden circuses. Shudder. So I was rather surprised that I kind-of enjoyed this book. I guess that’s the thing about good writing, hey? Imagine that.

For those that don’t know the general drift (crawl out of your hole, the book is everywhere and there’s also a movie…), here it is: boy goes to fancy veterinary school, boy’s parents die, boy leaves veterinary school, boy joins circus, boy falls in love with unavailable girl as well as with elephant. I know that doesn’t make it sound like a very good book, but it’s actually good. In spite of many things that I thought I wouldn’t like about it (and in spite of the difficulty I had reading it without picturing reese witherspoon as the main girl), it won me over.

This next one I sandwiched between a few superficial happy reads, cuz I knew it would be a doozy. I mean, it’s about the holocaust. Not exactly fitting the mandate. But again, I steeled my nerves and plunged in — and found that it, also, was very well-written. This time I really admired the main character, Julia.Sarah's Key review

Once again, if you don’t know the gist of the story you’ve probably been on the tundra for seven months but here’s the abbreviated version: Julia is an American journalist living in Paris, married to a Parisian, and is asked to write a story for the 60th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv, when the French rounded up a veledrome full of Jews and sent them on trains to concentration camps. Julia becomes very involved in the story, and finds someone that links that event to her current life in Paris. This was definitely on the sad side, but I found myself liking it, and not wanting to put it down, even so.

After these two, I was in the mood for something very much the opposite. Back to the mandate, for a good few books in a row now!

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Oooh, this was so good. I can’t believe I have never read this before! I didn’t even know about it until I saw the BBC series (which I loved).

For those who don’t know the story: Margaret Hale is a young lady who lives in Helstone with her parents. Her father is a Parson and, after a crisis of conscience, leaves the church and moves the family to the northern industrial town of Milton, where Mr. Hale can find work as a private tutor. Mrs. Hale comes from a well-to-do family, and Margaret spends time in London with her aunt and cousins often before going with her parents to Milton. The contrast of the industrial town from their quiet rural living in Helstone is quite abrupt and all three have trouble adjusting to their new town.

Elizabeth Gaskell North and South review

Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell is a beautiful writer. (Interestingly enough, the version I read was written by ‘Mrs. Gaskell.’) I was a bit wary, after reading the foreword, which states that the novel was originally published in pieces, in a serial. By the time I got a few chapters in I wasn’t even thinking about that. Gaskell will now be up there with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte for me. She does an amazing job of weaving politics, romance, family, and religion into this book. It has a similar view of pride in love as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Margaret and Mr. Thornton get off on just the same wrong foot as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy do in P&P. Yet in other ways the stories are incredibly different.

I look forward to reading more by Mrs. Gaskell!

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

I really liked the idea for this book. There were times when I felt like the writing got in the way of the story, but that may be just because I’m an impatient reader 🙂

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane reviewThis is a story about Connie, a grad student starting work on her PhD in 1991. She’s looking into the Salem witch trials of 1692, and the book jumps back and forth between present day and the time of the witch trials. Connie prides herself on being a researcher, but her mother is a free spirit; needless to say, the two don’t always get along, so when Connie’s mother asks her to clean out her grandmother’s vacant house and ready it for sale, Connie is annoyed. She now has to spend her summer cleaning up someone else’s mess AND nailing down a topic for her thesis. Don’t worry, she runs into an interesting guy along the way.

I didn’t always buy into Howe’s characters, particularly the evil thesis adviser, and I did find that her descriptive passages brought the story to a screeching halt a few times. That said, I liked how Connie’s relationship with her mom developed as Connie learned more about her past while going through her grandmother’s belongings.

It was a relatively fun read, and Howe did a good job of weaving the actual history into the book, but to me it felt a bit amateur.

 

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

But first, a word about the new look of this blog. I was getting tired of the same old same old, so I decided to try on a new theme. Mostly, I love it. The photo I had on there before clashed with the alarmingly lemon-y new sidebar colour, so I had to change it. The only things I don’t love about it are 1) the ridiculous colour of the sidebars — ouch (sadly, I can’t change them), and 2) that the text for the links is purple. Purple? Really? sigh. But these things I can live with.

So about this book. So cute! I loved it. Would have liked it a lot when I was a YA reader, for sure… it reminds me a bit of the old Enid Blyton books (though I confess it has been a long time since I read any of them, so I guess it just reminds me of my memory version of those books).

The four Penderwick sisters and their father have rented a cottage on an estate called Arundel for their summer holiday. Naturally curious, the girls get themselves into all kinds of trouble with the strict owner of Arundel, Mrs. Tifton.

I picked this one up after reading what Aarti had to say about it – the book sounded charming. I was able to get it basically right away from the library, and I was not disappointed! This is a great summer read, for sure. Birdsall does a great job of keeping it lighthearted through the calamities, and I love that Mr. Penderwick is always speaking latin.

Reading this has also got me hoping that the box of my childhood books that I stored in 2009 is still kicking around somewhere. I’d love to reread those Enid Blytons again!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I’m glad I read this one. It’s one of the flavours of the hour, as I like to call them, and I’m always suspicious of these books. I often avoid them because a few have been known to fall short of living up to the hype. Though, admittedly, when I think about it, most of them are popular for a reason — they’re good. My sister recommended this one (and provided it) so I went ahead and read it. Stockett is a great writer, and I enjoyed the book more than I anticipated I would.

It’s the mid-1960s in Mississippi. Skeeter has just graduated from Ole Miss and is now back home living with her parents. She wants to be a writer, or a journalist. When she returns home, she finds that Constantine, the woman who raised her, is gone, and no one will tell her why.  Skeeter decides to try and write a book of interviews that detail the lives of the African American women who work in the homes of the well-to-do in Jackson, her hometown.

Once I got into it, I read this at a mad pace because I was so afraid that Skeeter was going to get caught writing this book of hers and that the women she was writing about were going to get hurt because of it. 

I admire Stockett’s pluck for creating a book about the attitudes in the southern US at the beginning of the civil rights movement that didn’t make me want to crawl under my bed and hide for the rest of my life. Books about what idiots we humans have been in the past, whether they are about damage done to fellow human beings, other species, or the environment in general, are always valuable reminders that we need to learn from our past mistakes. That said, they’re usually pretty depressing too. This is a hopeful book (and if a book can’t be happy, as I’m sure a book about any of humanity’s historical blunders would struggle to be, I appreciate when it is hopeful). That said, not having grown up in the southern US in this time period, I wonder how people who did experience the attitudes of the time feel about the book. I don’t know if the book really addresses the issues so much as just providing caricatures of some of the people who were facing the issues, but I see the merit in drawing attention to an uncomfortable topic nonetheless.

The Exile by Diana Gabaldon, illustrated by Hoang Nguyen

Let me just say that a few weeks ago when I stumbled onto Diana Gabaldon’s blog and read that a) she is working on both an eighth Outlander novel and a prequel, and b) there is already in existence a graphic novel based on the first book, I almost lost the plot.

A long-time fan of these books (I read the first one when I was fifteen and skipped the ‘racy’ parts, as I then called them … yes, I was a young fifteen!), I could hardly believe my luck. New stuff about a story I love! Claire Randall-Beauchamp-Fraser is one of my favourite book characters (ok ok, so is Jamie). I don’t read graphic novels, generally, but I was stoked to read this one. Plus, it promised new insights into the story that aren’t in the original Outlander novel.

So, after getting a Chapters gift card for my birthday last weekend, I promptly went out and bought The Exile. 🙂

For those who don’t know the story, Claire is in her late twenties and vacationing in Scotland with her husband just after WWII when she stumbles through the standing stones and ends up back in 1743. She promptly makes an ememy of the local English captain and is taken in (or taken captive) by a group of Scottish Highlanders. If you haven’t read this novel, get off your butt and go read it. It’s the best historical fiction ever. Seriously.

Now, I didn’t have very high expectations for the graphic novel because I am not a huge fan of the style of drawing in them and I knew it wouldn’t compare to the original novel, since so much of the dialogue and descriptions wouldn’t appear in a graphic novel. So I was pleasantly surprised when I read The Exile. The graphics were engaging and colourful. Of course, neither Claire nor Jamie looked much like I had imagined (is it really necessary to make girls so busty? for reals?) but that is a risk you take with any graphic representation of your favourite book characters, whether in TV, movie, or illustrations. I got to know a lot more about Murtagh as a character, which was cool.

I think if you were not already familiar with Gabaldon’s novels, The Exile mightn’t be your favourite thing. I found that there were lots of huge chunks of the story left out, and I had no trouble connecting the dots because I’d read the novels, but I wonder if people without the background from the novels would be as understanding or willing to believe in the story.

It was exciting to see a new twist on one of my old favourites and I think it’s pretty awesome that Gabaldon gave it a try—can’t be easy adapting something for a very different genre.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Let me first say I’m proud of myself for getting through this one, because it did not fit The Mandate. This was not happy subject matter. That said, I loved it. Brooks is such an amazing writer (I may have mentioned this once or twice before) and I always enjoy her books even if I’m not crazy about the subject matter (ahem, March).

I waited not-so-patiently on the list for this one through the library, and am glad that I did: so worth it. I read this one at warp speed again, so I’m pretty sure I missed out on some of the subtleties. I am looking forward to reading it again in a year or so. I think this is my second-favourite book of Brooks’, next to The People of the Book. (Though of course I haven’t read Nine Parts of Desire or Foreign Correspondence.)

It starts out on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in the mid-1600s, where Bethia is the daughter of a minister attempting to bring the natives of the island into the folds of Jesus Christ, so to speak. (In watching the trailer for the book, I have just learned that her name is pronounced Beth-EYE-uh, not BETH-ee-uh as I was pronouncing it in my mind as I read the book. Good to know.) She’s smart and eager to learn; not things girls are supposed to be (or be proud of) in 1650. One day, while out collecting things for dinner, she encounters a native american boy. The two become secret friends, teaching each other their languages and cultures. Bethia gives him the English name of Caleb, and he gives her the Wampanoag name of Storm Eyes.

This part of the book I enjoyed a lot. I like Bethia’s spunk, and her thirst for knowledge. I liked their developing friendship. Of course, then many of the Wampanoags (not sure this is the correct plural) get sick, and the happiness factor of the story goes downhill from there. I took a break at this point, to remove myself from the story a bit. I’m not going to lie, I even considered not finishing the book. But I kept thinking about the story and I wanted to know what happened, so I picked it up again.

Caleb goes to live with Bethia’s family, so he can learn latin and greek and get an English education, and then moves on to the mainland to continue with his education alongside Bethia’s brother Makepeace.

I sometimes find it hard to read books about what idiots people were in the past (even though the book is fictional, I’m betting the attitudes of its characters are fairly representative of the time and place), but Bethia is a great narrator and I wanted badly to read that she didn’t end up trodden upon just because she’s a woman.

I also really liked the title of this book. In continuing with this trend of reading about what idiots we all have been in the past, the next book I’ve finished is The Help by Katherine Stockett. After starting this one, and realizing that it was also serious and not-very-happy subject matter, I took a brief break to read… dunh-dunh-dunh…. a graphic novel! Oh yes. My first one ever (since I don’t count the Archie comics I used to read in elementary school).

 

Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen

What a beautifully written book.  I read it too fast, and I know I’d enjoy reading it again at a slower pace to soak up the craft and language.

Not surprisingly, the book is about a girl called Eva Trout. Eva is orphaned at a young age and lives under the guardianship of her father’s friend Constantine, though from afar. As she nears her 25th birthday, when she will come into her father’s money and no longer need guardianship, she begins to exhibit some worrying behavior (sells her Jaguar and disappears).

Bowen has an incredible voice and I love how, for the most part, nothing is actually talked about, not explicitly, in this book. Well, for the most part. I was always guessing about what the ‘whole story’ was, and I think that was Bowen’s intention. I don’t usually talk too much about details or endings, because I hate spoilers, but since this one was published in 1968, I am guessing lots of people have read this one already (and there is lots of talk out there about the ending). That said, you’ve been warned.

She dies? Really? I’m all for poetic endings but this was … well. Not the mandate. I mean, it was an amazing book, but you know how I feel about happy wrap-ups to the storyline these days: they’re necessary.  This made me think about Stranger Than Fiction, you know, when Emma Thompson’s character is forced to consider whether it is imperative to kill off Harold Crick at the end of her book? And why are there always children involved? That just seems a bit like shameless heartstring-pulling to me. I’m just sayin.

I’m glad I’ve discovered Bowen, though. What a talent.

I’ve started on Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. So far I’m loving it!

Griffin’s Daughter by Leslie Ann Moore

So, I have been very interested of late by people who self publish fiction ebooks, and the quality of these books. I also wonder if people have their books edited, how much they are sold for (or if they are available free), and how they become popular. I have done some reading about this, but not a tonne. In particular, I want to talk about two that caught my interest.

One I saw on a bookshelf in my local Chapters: it being about the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I naturally wanted to read it so went to look it up at my library. They didn’t have it, and after poking around online I discovered that it had initially been self-published by the author and was only picked up by a publishing house after it was pretty successful and she had written more books. I am talking about Mr & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, or Two Shall Become One, by Sharon Lathan. I was able to track down the ebook from my provincial ebook library, and couldn’t get past the first few pages. I am not really into harlequin-type romance novels, so I wasn’t too surprised. I did find Lathan’s story as an author pretty inspiring, though. She saw the 2005 P&P movie, loved it, and decided to continue their story. She self-published the first few, and their success caught the eye of a publisher who picked them up and has since published subsequent novels based on Austen’s characters. Obviously there is a market for this kind of thing – not too surprising that we want to read more about the characters Jane Austen created.

When I was poking around for free ebooks, I found Griffin’s Daughter by Leslie Ann Moore. I stuck with it, enjoyed it, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, plot, and characters in comparison to the last free ebook that I read. Then I started looking around for the next book in the trilogy and discovered that this book is only free for a limited amount of time. It’s not self-published – and I’m not sure why I assumed it would have been, just because it was available for free (I know what happens when I assume). It’s actually published by Ridan Publishing (who I had never heard of before) and the sequels cost money. They don’t have them at my library so I may actually pony up and by the ebooks. I’m not saying it was an amazing book, but I really enjoyed it for what it was.

The story is about a girl named Jelena, who is half-elf and lives in a human world where she is shunned because of her elven blood. When she discovers that her uncle has sold her as a concubine to a neighbouring lord, she flees into the territory of the elves to try and find her father (the source of her elven blood). But there is something else going on inside Jelena, something bigger, and she has to figure out what it is and what it means.

The first few chapters were rocky, I’ll tell ya. It wasn’t until the fourth one that I got into the story, and I read it over a pretty spread out amount of time, so by the time I got to the end I had forgotten that the first few chapters were about a different time period than the remainder of the book (this is when it would have been useful to be reading the hard copy instead). If I had read it over a shorter period of time, I would probably have been able to remember the first few chapters and figure out how they were relevant to the rest of the plot. As it was, when I went back to check something to write this post, I was surprised that I didn’t recognize any of the characters’ names in the first few chapters. Moore knows how to write a convincing romance between two people, though, and that kept me reading.

So, I am testing the waters of free (and not free) ebooks and finding some books I like.

Magician’s Ward by Patricia C. Wrede

Told ya I had this one comin’ from the library. It was so good I devoured it in a matter of hours. I wish Wrede had written more books about Mairelon and Kim!

Set in the same alternate regency England as Mairelon the Magician, where magic is a part of life, Kim is now living in Merrill’s (Mairelon’s) family home as his ward. She’s learning to talk and look like a lady, and she’s also learning magic. Of course she and Mairelon have a mystery to unravel. I was happy to discover, just at the point of the story where I was thinking, “Kim’s old enough that she could have a romantic interest now, isn’t she?”, one appeared. Excellent.

I may try out some of Wrede’s other series…

Up next: I’m reading the Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (prequel to the Hero and the Crown).

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

I can’t remember where I heard about this one, but I recall thinking it sounded decent and had some fantastical elements to the plot, so it would likely be the type of adult trade fiction book I might enjoy.

Willa (great character name; also the name of my cousin’s terrier) grew up in a small town in the southern US where she now runs an outdoor sporting goods store with a coffee shop in it. When the story begins, Willa is avoiding an invitation to an event in the newly restored Blue Ridge Madam, one of the oldest buildings in the town and the former home of Willa’s ancestors. Restoration of the Madam was spear-headed by Paxton, a high school classmate of Willa’s. Paxton’s family bought the Madam and are turning it into an Inn. Paxton’s and Willa’s grandmothers were close friends as girls, but drifted apart as adults. When an old secret is dug up during the restoration, Paxton has a bit of a breakdown and ends up finding a friend in Willa.  Don’t worry, they both have love interests too. Each of Allen‘s characters end up learning to accept themselves for who they are, and by doing so, they also learn to accept each others’ friendship. Awww.

Allen kept me reading with her subplot of the mystery secret that’s dug up at the Blue Ridge Madam. There’s something a bit magical going on, and I liked that element of the story. I liked how Allen portrayed it, too — it wasn’t clear to the characters whether there really WAS magic, but there was something going on, and I liked how it contributed to wrapping up the plot. I also liked how she wrote the romances between Willa and her love interest and Paxton and her love interest. Definitely kept me reading to see what happened.

If this book was a person I knew who was walking down the street towards me, I’d probably give them a non-committal (but not wimpy) high-five and keep on walking.

Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede

This book was great. It’s exactly the kind of book I would have LOVED when I was a kid — heck, I love it now — and I wish I had discovered it when I was younger. It’s a bit heavier on the mystery side of things for my usual tastes but it was a captivating book. I would say it is more of a young readers book than a teen book.

Kim is a street kid living in London, passing as a boy and getting by however she can. When she’s asked to poke around inside a magician’s wagon, she get caught, and receives a surprising offer to join Mairelon, the magician, in his traveling show. Kim’s street smarts and observant eyes come in handy as she tries to help Mairelon unravel a mystery and clear his name as the suspect of a major theft.

I liked Kim so much that immediately after finishing the book I reserved its sequel, Magician’s Ward, from the library. Can’t wait for it to come in! So glad I discovered Patricia C. Wrede, and can’t wait to read more by her.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

I could not put this book down, which is surprising given that I am on such a happy-subject-matter-only bent right now and it is evident from the inside cover of this book that it is not happy subject matter.

Sam is a typical high school girl until the day she dies in a car accident and starts to relive the day of her death over and over again.

So, okay, it’s not a terribly original plot idea but Oliver hooked me from the beginning and the book sailed along at an incredible pace. Each time Sam relives her day, and she discovers what she can change and what she can’t, I found myself liking her more and more; Oliver does a great job of showing how Sam changes, and grows up, in a matter of a few days. (Well. Repeating the same day several times.)  

This is not fantasy, just fiction; but I still really enjoyed it. I see that Oliver has written another book, Delirium, and I will totally be checking that out too.

In other news, I can’t seem to get through Gaiman’s Anansi Boys. I am finding it difficult to read, in the same way that I found it difficult to watch Seinfeld because I couldn’t stand watching George embarrass himself over and over. So I stopped watching Seinfeld, and now I’m gonna stop reading Anansi Boys. Sorry, Gaiman. I’ll try it again later…

So what’s up next? I’ve picked up Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede after reading what Aarti had to say about it on her blog. So far, I’m loving it!

Pegasus by Robin McKinley

Over the weekend I finished up reading Pegasus. This is one of her newest books (perhaps the newest?) and I think I fell prey to my expectations. This was a good book; great, even; but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting after reading Beauty and The Hero and the Crown.

I did love Sylvi, the tomboy princess who’s the centre of the story. Every member of the royal family is bound to a pegasus on their 12th birthday. But when Sylvi is bound to Ebon, they find that they have an unusual bond; one that everyone else is afraid of. The book tells how Sylvi and Ebon become the closest of friends, and together they push the preconceived boundaries of human-pegasi communication and interaction.

The story had great elements: a beautifully constructed fantasy world, loveable characters, and a solid plot line (complete with an evil magician). I found that it took me a long time to get through the book, though – perhaps I’m too used to reading more typical teen books that I can speed through in a day or two, but this seemed to drag on. When I was about three-quarters of the way through, I thought about how sometimes when I’m loving a book and I’m getting through it really fast, I ration it — a few pages a day — so that it will last longer, because I don’t want it to end. Pegasus was a good book, but I felt that the story progressed too slowly, and I was frustrated that it was taking so long to unfold.

It ended sort-of abruptly, and without wrapping up, which says to me that there’s going to be a sequel… this is something I find mildly annoying in books. If there’s going to be a sequel, fine. If you want to let your readers know that during the book, also fine. But at least wrap the story up in a satisfying way!

All in all, this book was a good one, and I enjoyed it. Just not as much as other stuff I’ve read by McKinley…

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

Someone posted this as one of their favourite books by a Canadian female author, I believe, on cbc books’ Canada reads. I see that it is now one of the top 40 “essential Canadian novels of the decade.” Awesome.

I found the book a bit difficult to get into, at first, since it is a bit slower paced. I was immediately drawn, however, to how Grant has written the main character’s voice. While living happily with her pet tortoise, Winnifred, in Portland OR, Audrey gets word that her father has been knocked unconscious and is now in a coma. She reluctantly leaves Winnifred with some friends and, despite her fear of flying, gets on a plane to Newfoundland. Upon returning home, she finds that her memories don’t quite line up with reality. Her adventure unfolds as she discovers who her family members really are, and strives to reunite with Winnifred.

The story jumps around in time quite a bit, which I found mildly disruptive (and which was probably partly why it took me so long to get into the book) at first, but I think it really serves the story later on. There are some unusual plot twists that unfold, which I think wouldn’t have been so surprising if the story were told in a linear chronological manner. I really thought Grant did a great job of demonstrating how her main character is stronger than she thinks.

I also read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, which I picked up at the giant used book sale in Victoria a few weeks ago. It was a quick, engaging read. I’ve just learned that this is a series, and there are four books. I knew there was at least one more book, because there are two movies, but I had no idea there were four!

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

This has been my ‘reading in bed at night’ book for a few weeks, and, as promised by the writer who recommended it in Real Simple, it was the perfect book for that. Nothing too exciting, but characters that are endearing and funny. An easy book to read just a few pages of before closing my eyes, without being temped to forego sleep.  Partway through reading this I found another Barbara Pym book at a used book sale so I grabbed it. I’m glad it will be waiting for me when I need something light-hearted to read before bed. It’s about two middle-aged sisters living together in a small English town, and the people they interact with in their community. The elder sister is in love with the archdeacon, who is married to someone else, and the younger sister dotes on all of the curates that rotate through their parish.

I also finished reading the last two books in The Dark Is Rising series, They Grey King and Silver on the Tree. I thought they Grey King was good, on par with Greenwitch, but Silver on the Tree was a bit much for me. It was great to reread this series, since I remembered liking it so much as a kid. I have reread some of my other childhood favourites since I grew up (Anne of Green Gables series; The Chronicles of Narnia; lots of Roald Dahl books) but I hadn’t reread this one.

Next up, Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Austenland – Shannon Hale

With a title like that, you know I was instantly hooked. I read this book last night all in one sitting – it’s a nice short read and, you guessed it, happy ending. The book is about a woman named Jane who is fed up with her love life and increasingly escapes into the scenes of BBC’s Pride & Prejudice instead of facing the real world. Then her rich great-aunt dies and leaves her a vacation (nonrefundable) instead of money. So off Jane goes to England for three weeks to a pricey, exclusive resort where people pretend they live in 1816 (or something) in the English countryside.

Of course this has me wondering if such a resort *actually* exists, and if so, how much money rich women are paying to wear corsets for three weeks and flirt shamelessly with paid actors in ‘breeches.’  To each their own, right?

Anyway. Hugely entertaining book. Reminds me a bit of the British TV series Lost In Austen (which obviously I also loved, and if you haven’t watched it you must – be sure to go onto youtube and search “lost in austen amanda sings’ when you get to the part where she is supposed to sing). ANNNDDD guess what I just discovered by nosing around online? This is a series! There is a second book, called Midnight in Austenland, coming out next year . Thank you, Shannon Hale.

Once again, I find myself reading too many books at once. I am still reading Some Tame Gazelle (Barbara Pym) before bed. But I am also reading the final book in The Dark Is Rising series, Silver on the Tree, as well as Come, Thou Tortoise (Jessica Grant). And one other one that I’m not gonna tell you about yet 🙂 Sooo we shall see how that goes… too many books at once, methinks. This week I also finished Greenwitch and the Grey King (books three and four in The Dark Is Rising series). Both were good. I remember why I liked these books as a kid. They are always finding secret places!

I Still Dream About You – Fannie Flagg

This was the first book I checked out of the Victoria library back in February. It was exactly what I was looking for! I was counting on Fannie Flagg to give me a feel-good story with a happy ending and she delivered. If you love Fannie Flagg’s style, you love this book too. Like so many fantasy authors, she is able to weave her story so convincingly that you really believe it, even when you have to suspend reality.

The story is about Maggie, a real estate agent and former Miss Alabama, who is unhappy with her life. Having grown up living above a movie theatre, and watching movies every day, Maggie always expected the happy ending.  When she realizes she may never get her happily ever after, she feels it would be better if she just packed it in. She makes an elaborate plan involving a raft and a river, but every time she sets out to put her plan in motion, something gets in the way and she ends up postponing it (her best friend, Brenda, has called to tell her that the Whirling Dervishes, Brenda’s favourite act, are coming to town. Maggie can’t very well refuse to go, can she?). 

Even though a few parts of the book, and the ending, seemed very far from reality, and I didn’t completely buy it, I didn’t care! It was a happy ending and by that time I loved Maggie so much that I didn’t care if the ending wasn’t realistic. I try hard to talk about books without giving out spoilers but it might be hard with this one. Don’t worry, even if you know a bit more about the book than what’s printed on the jacket flap, you’ll still enjoy the book. 

Once Maggie has decided to pack it in, she feels a great weight off her shoulders – and starts living her life a bit differently. “Oh, what the heck – I’ll just make this phone call,” she thinks, and it turns out to have hugely positive repercussions.  I love how Flagg writes this for the character, and that when Maggie starts living her life just a bit differently, a lot changes. I also loved how, before Maggie makes her decision (I think it’s before), she is noticing that she’s having “crazy” thoughts, like she wants to stand up in a restaurant and shout “ooga booga” or something (not an example the writer uses, but it’s May and I read the book in February… you get the gist) — she almost feels like she can’t trust herself to behave normally anymore.

Anyway this was a great book, and it was the first book in what I hope to be many of the Happy Stories Only mandate 🙂

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

This is another book I read because I watched the movie, liked it, and then found out that it was a book first. Le Sigh. So I read the book, and loved it too. It doesn’t necessarily fall into my recent ‘only happy stories’ mandate for my reading list, but I will say that it was mostly happy. Every once in a while, Fowler would sneak in some sort of heart-breaking little anecdote about one of the characters that took my breath away (not the mandate! not the mandate!). Though of course it was also about people discussing Jane Austen’s books, so. What’s not to like about that? As someone who voraciously re-reads every one of Austen’s books every few months, I was interested in knowing what other people love (or hate) about them (even if the other people were fictional characters).

I’ll confess that I didn’t think too hard about what the book was trying to say — if you tried, you could probably say that one character was supposed to be Emma, one Marianne, one Elizabeth, one Fanny, etc. etc. I did see elements of Austen’s characters in Fowler’s characters — I liked that. It’s interesting to see how an author perceives a modern-day Fanny might be living her life, or a modern-day Marianne. And I liked to hear what Fowler’s characters had to say about Austen’s life and her characters (and, by talking about the characters, they were often talking about other people in their lives or in the book club too). But I didn’t want to over-analyze it (something I rarely do with books, anyway).

Up next on the reading list: Some Tame Gazelle, by Barbara Pym. I’m told (admittedly by someone in Real Simple magazine, so possibly not an entirely trustworthy judge of my tastes) it’s a light-hearted, happy-ending-type affair, so off I go.