Summer Reading, part 4

Summer is very nearly over. Just a few more weeks and students will be back and it will feel like all work and no play once again. I’ve managed to read (or try to read) most of the books on my self-appointed summer reading list, with the exception of the Kate Locke book… I’ve been distracted by library holds that arrived all at once. I’ll try to get to it before the summer ends.

My latest read was Among Others by Jo Walton, a story about magic, ethics, sci-fi, and growing up. It’s one of those books that starts slow but then sucks you in and doesn’t let go even after you’ve finished. I stayed up reading this one (and I’m a strict 8 hour sort of girl, I don’t stay up for any old book).

20130728-142654.jpg

Of course, despite my best effort to be a responsible book keeper, I’ve gone out and acquired more books… It can’t be helped. I’ve been wanting to read these for ages and they were autographed, so I gave in.

20130728-142901.jpg

I really only went to the shop for the pins… Talk about impulse buys.

Advertisements

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

oceanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of those novels that grabbed me from the start and didn’t let go. It is a slim little volume, easy enough to read, but it leaves you feeling that you’ve learned and lost something in the reading. It is the story of a man who once was a boy and a few days that were filled with wonder and terror. It is about a pond that is an ocean, and such an ocean it is.

It is about nature, and dreams, and memories. But it is also about life and growing up, finding yourself, and finding the magic in small things. And it’s about cats and women and wisdom. It’s a novel that has all the essence of a fable, something that has been part of story as long as there have been stories, and yet is entirely new. Neil Gaiman has a way of doing that with his words, weaving tales that are at once new and eternal.

I could make comparisons to The Graveyard Book or Coraline, even to Big Fish, but the novel is really a creature all its own. As with these works, it takes you into a world that makes you doubt the truth of reality and experience, makes you wonder if there is more to be seen just beyond the edge of your vision.

I can’t say much more than that. It is such a privilege to have received this copy for review from William Morrow.

 

 

Summer Reading, part 3

or old worlds made new…

I ignored everyone after a certain hour yesterday and read my way through the rest of Bitterblue and then I realized there was no more. Bitterblue, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Kristin Cashore‘s series, is part of the Graceling/Fire realms, and I say realms because each of these novels can be read as a standalone, though they all share some common elements, including characters and settings. Bitterblue brings these two realms together, but can be read on its own (though why would you do that to yourself? Read them all!).

*Warning! Slight spoilers for Graceling and Fire*

bitterblueIn the realm of Bitterblue, there are people with certain powers known as Graces, these are marked by their mismatched eyes. Some of these abilities are overt, like strength or fighting abilities, others are more subtle, like mind-reading and coercion. Not all the Graces are bad, and most are happy enough to shuffle along doing what they will. But there are those who use their powers to achieve their own ends and control others. Such is the case of Leck, whose influence leaves a stain in both the Kingdoms of Graceling and the Dells of Fire.

Bitterblue is Leck’s daughter, Queen of all Monsea, and heiress to a damaged kingdom. Leck’s Grace destroyed the idea of truth and reality in his Kingdom, so that no one can be certain what truly happened during his reign, or just how many atrocities were committed under his power. It is Bitterblue’s most desperate need to make these things right, but being a true Queen means uncovering truths that threaten the well-being of her closest allies, and learning things about her father that she never imagined.

*Spoilers done*

Phew! I try to keep those to a minimum, but some can’t be helped, especially when Leck’s doings are one of the elements that most closely binds these three novels. Bitterblue is a dark story, emotionally harrowing at times, almost in the same way that Robin McKinley’s Deerskin can just tear you apart. Leck is a nasty piece, but there is a method to his madness that is just as harrowing as Bitterblue’s wish to see her world made right because, in his own misguided way, that is what Leck also wanted–to see Monsea and its people turned into his notion of what they should be.

At the same time, there is a thread of hope that keeps Bitterblue from becoming unbearably sad. There are dreams and there is love–a sweet, companionate kind of love that Cashore always gets just right. There are also mysteries that keep you guessing, and a lot of to do about ciphers that are often beyond my ability to follow, but are fun to read about.

This is a young adult novel, but it’s one of those young adult novels that doesn’t pander to teenage daydreams about perfect happy endings. Bitterblue doesn’t expect a perfect happy ending, there’s no marriage and a happily ever after to this fairy tale, but there is an ever after.

Summer Reading, part 2…

or getting my YA on

Finished Beautiful Creatures last night and can’t wait to get my hands on Beautiful Darkness. I was really surprised that I enjoyed the book as much as I did. I’d been getting away from YA during the last year… I’d had a hard time finding books that I could connect with and was starting to worry that I was losing my youthful whimsy. I haven’t lost it :). Beautiful Creatures drew me in from the start. It’s not perfect—there are some scenes that turned me off, especially the party scene, and it’s YA, so there is bound to be the near insta-love element that is so common in this kind of fiction, but it worked for me.

What I find especially engaging is the way that the Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl evoke the unique character of the South. The individual voices are wonderful–especially among the adults in the book. Who doesn’t love Ethan’s kooky aunts and the magical Amma?–and the settings are nicely rendered and imagined. There is a great atmospheric quality to the narrative that almost reminds me of Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches series (without all the minute details).

I was afraid this would be one of those in-the-shadow of Twilight books, but it is most definitely not. The romance between Ethan and Lena is easy and develops naturally, though you know it’s bound to happen the moment they meet and there’s that shock of attraction (and I do mean shock). There’s love and sacrifice, but it’s not a toxic love, and that’s one of the best things I can say about any YA depiction of romance.

Even as I write this, I find myself thinking of The China Garden by Liz Berry, another great YA read about a family curse and one of my favorite books. I’m sure fans of Beautiful Creatures would love it too!

there will be books!

Seriously. I promise. I’m reading way too many at a time as it is. I’ll post soon(ish).

But, for now, I’m planning the summer reads because summer is the best time to read like mad and stay out of the dreadful heat.

Some of my picks…

  • I will finish A Clash of Kings.
  • I’ll re-read The Great Gatsby
  • I’ll finally get to Elizabeth George’s The Edge of Nowhere (received it for review ages ago)
  • And read Cassandra Clare’s A Clockwork Princess, Gail Carriger’s Espionage & Etiquette and Kate Locke’s The Queen is Dead.
  • Also, I will check out Jo Walton’s Among Others from the library’s display.

I think I’m aiming too far here…

A summer of YA reading

I’ve been in a YA sort of mood this month… actually, it’s been a while since I’ve been interested in reading YA fiction. I was starting to think I had become a boring grown-up sort of reader, but no such thing after all.

Therefore, in the best tradition of what I do best, I’ve made a list of books culled from my TBR pile and prepared my very own YA Summer Reading List. Best of all, it’s not teacher-assigned 🙂 . No deadlines or book reports for this summer reading list.

  • Matched by Ally Condie
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley
  • Chime by Franny Billingsley
  • A Song for Summer by Eva Ibhotsen
  • Bachelor Girl by Roger Lea McBride
  • Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
  • Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl 
  •  Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
  • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marrilier
  • Runemarks by Joanne Harris
  • Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
  • and the rest of the Mortal Instruments series to be checked out from the library

character and elegant economy

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

As an Austenite, I felt I had to read Lady Susan at some point. I am one those rare people who actually enjoy the epistolary genre, but there was something about this novella that left me a bit underwhelmed. One of Austen’s minor works, Lady Susan tells the story of Lady Susan Vernon, profligate coquette and shamelessly manipulative woman about town… er… countryside. Followed by a terrible reputation, Lady Susan’s character is quickly revealed through the letters of her dead husband’s sister-in-law. A terrible mother, concerned with making her daugther as miserable as possible so that she will marry out of despair, Lady Susan has little to recommend her to good society other than her charm. And charming she is, even when she writes to her friend, Mrs. Johnson, describing her plans to dispose of her daughter and toy with several men in the process. However, it is not until the Conclusion that Austen’s wit really comes through. For a 60 page novella, this little story seemed to drag along, only redeeming itself in its brief (non-epistolary) ending.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Yes, I read this because I so enjoyed the miniseries. Cranford was a charming little novel, a series of vignettes describing the goings-on in the sleepy little town of Cranford. “In possession of the Amazons,” Cranford is ruled by a set of middle-aged spinsters and widows concerned with the preservation of manners and social niceties. A series of episodes narrated by Cranford enthusiast Mary Smith, the stories are sweet and funny, and completely unlike any other Victorian novel I have read–in Cranford, spinsterhood is a respectable position, there is no rush to marry; the Amazons look upon marriage as a strange and unneccesary custom, after all, what use is a man in Cranford society?

A brief and not-so-concise overview of my latest reads

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott:

I first tried reading this when I was 13, but I lost interest sometime after Beth died, so I quit and stuffed my copy away never to be seen again. A little over a month ago, I was browsing around Books and Books and came across a nice looking little copy, the new Puffin Modern Classics edition for kids, and could not resist buying it. At the time I thought, maybe I am ready for a second try. I was. I picked it up as soon as I finished The Host, unwilling to let it become another “someday” book in my ever-growing pile. I could not put it down. I think I was not quite ready for Jo’s older personality when I was a kid (I remember not liking Mr. Bhaer’s moralizing when I was younger and think this may have also contributed to my rejection). I almost quit during the whole Pilgrim’s Progress scheme, but I stopped myself and did not regret my decision.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell:

I had never read Elizabeth Gaskell before, admittedly I had never even heard of her until a certain someone mentioned “Cranford” and piqued my interest in the Gaskell mini-series… erm… series (I know, this is blasphemy for someone who calls herself a lover of Victorian lit). I have to say I was really satisfied with this novel, and started to think of it as a sort of nineteenth-century version of Pride and Prejudice with more class issues and politics. Also, though I tend to have difficulty connecting with male characters, I found myself much more sympathetic towards John Thornton than Margaret Hale.

Stop In the Name of Pants! by Louise Rennison:

After two classics, it was time for something completely different… opposite end of the spectrum different. With its raunchy humor and general silliness, the Georgia Nicolson series continues to make me laugh out loud. May the general horn never grow old…

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin:

I do not read many biographies, but Jane Austen is one writer that I am truly interested in, not because of any speculation regarding autobiographical elements in her novels, but just because I find her to be an absolutely fascinating woman, despite her so-called quiet life. This biography is haled as one of the best by Austenites, telling the history of Jane, her family, friends, and neighbors, as garnered from the letters, diaries, and journals of those who knew her, and the few documents written by Jane that survived the well-meaning censorship of her sister and niece. Parallels are also drawn between the novels and Austen’s life.