Wordy Wednesday: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

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Title: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Author: Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC Rating: 4star
Publication Date: 2004 Genre: Fantasy,

Why Picked: A Friend’s Favorite

First Line:

“Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.”

Summary:

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England—until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight. Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear. [1]

Review:

This has been on my TRB shelf for years. A favorite book of one of my dearest friends, recommended over and over again by so many people, yet every time I would try to read it I could not get anywhere. It was not for lack of trying, nor was it because I did not like it. What truly baffled me was I was easily able to read and adored Clarke’s book of short stories “The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories .” So why could I not tackle the story of Strange and Norrell.

After years, I finally figured out it out. I found that since children entered my life I rarely have long, leisurely reading time. My reading is like an affair committed in hallways and cars. I read 5 minutes here and 15 minutes there and often am, like so many other American adults, so sleep deprived that if you put me in a warm car with a book I am asleep before I am 5 pages in. So a book rich in story and elegant in language? It didn’t stand a chance. These are the books that need time and chucks of it to be read and savored. This book was a commitment not an affair.

Jump forward to my discovery that, while I could not easily listen to audio books in bit and pieces, because my mind would wander into the never ending list of 100 things I still have to do today, I could listen to them during long drives alone to visit friends. Coincidentally one of them the friend who loves JS&MN so hard he never gave up trying to get me to read it. Fast forward again to my taking on a barter situation where I clean for someone about 6 hours a week and suddenly I am whizzing through audio books. So I finally broke down and I got an Audible account. I listened to all of the available Dresden files. I listened to all of the available Fairyland books. So what was next? I suddenly remembered that when I could not get though a book I loved called Chime, which is another story of how I learned to love the audio format, I tried the audio of JS&MN.  And I discovered that while I could not read it I absolutely could listen to it.

There were some bumps which I was concerned about. The major one was footnotes! How do you listen to a story with something along the lines of 180 footnotes and not lose the narrative of the story? For me this was not an issue beyond wanting to write down the books mentioned in many of them for future reading and then remembering the majority of them are made up and do not exist. Simon Prebble, the narrator, was able to handle these footnotes with smoothness and grace which made them a non-issue for me.

The story itself is a beautifully told story of magic and longing, of miserliness and need, of the fae and the folk. It is a story of Napoleonic Europe and an England which is undone by a handful of people and their need to see magic restored. It is a story of how friendship can drive you to madness and how love can do the same. It is a story of Otherness, and by that I do not mean the fae, but persons of color and women and poverty. For me it was these people who were the most intriguing. The wives and the street people, the servants and soldiers, these were the stories I was interested in. Strange and Norrell and their story is that on which all other hung. But tell me more about John Uskglass and more about Vinculus. I want to know about Emma and Arabella, Segundus and Martin Pale.

Overall, I am extraordinarily glad I finally got to hear the story of how magic returned to 19th-century England. And while I know no author owes their fans anything Clarke has hinted at more of this story. That would be wonderful.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Wordy Wednesday

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow Books

5star

Publication Date: 2013 Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Magical Realism, Magic, Memory

Why Picked: It’s a Gaiman and it was my book club pick.

First Line: “It was only a duckpond, out at the back of the farm. It wasn’t very big.”

Summary:

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Laneis told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark. [1]

Review:

As you all know I was lucky enough to get to go and hear Neil Gaiman read from this book and hear him talk about how this novel came to be. He talked about how he wrote this book for his wife when she was in Australia making an album and in he was in Florida working and he missed her. He decided to write her a short story and since she was not a fan of fantasy and all the things which he is known for but instead of feelings and honest stuff which he feel he is not good at because “I’ve never been into doing a lot of feelings because — well, I’m English,” he decided to write her a short story based on a memory. And that turned into one of his shortest but best adult novels to date.

Ocean is at once the most real, most magical and most horrific story I have read so far from Neil Gaiman. Its realism comes from the voice of the 7 year old boy who narrates much of the story. As one of the woman in my book club mentioned he was so very good at getting that voice. Realizing that the entirety of the world is still new and different enough that magical events that take place here are, while not exactly hum-drum, nothing that one cannot incorporate easily into one’s understanding of the world is part of what 7 is and Gaiman nails it. That is the reality of Ocean, that voice. Additionally, one of the most magical scenes at the very end, I also think is one of the most real. The need to go home, the need to know if it is all OK, the search for confirmation that we are living our lives well and good. And while I do not want to give away the resolution of the last scenes, there is something comforting in thinking maybe we all have check-ins but none of us get to remember them.

Magic is Gaiman’s stock and trade and one of the reasons I love his work. His magical sense and use is amazing and makes me long for a world were these things are true and real. His vision of the aspects of a triune goddess, which are scattered all over his work, embodied in the Hempstocks is at it finest here. Lettie, Ginnie and Old Mrs. Hempstock are Grave’s trio as they should always be. And his description of “the language of shaping” was glorious. When the narrator talks about understanding the language of shaping in his dreams, I realized Gaiman understands people’s true desires, perhaps mine even more so, at a bone deep level.

“I have dreamed of that song, of the strange words to that simple rhyme-song, and on several occasions I have understood what she was saying, in my dreams. In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed and breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, ‘Be whole,’ and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.”

And the horror, the horror of the monster who wears the human face. The horror of the parent who suddenly is no longer loving but a monster also. And the true horror of all the things that you do not understand at seven but you will understand when you are older. The horror that adults will not believe the things you need to tell them and show them. They do not see the things you see. And in many ways you are totally alone. And the horror that the magic of year seven, while we can glimpse at it through stories like these, we will lose it again, at the end.

Wordy Wednesday: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller

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Jim Henson's The Storyteller HC

Title: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller Author: Various
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment Rating: 3star
Publication Date: 2013 Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Graphic Novels, Juvenile Fiction

Why Picked: NetGalley ARC

First Line:

When People told Themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for … The Storyteller.

Summary:

Now in paperback! When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories…the best place by the fire was kept for…The Storyteller! Archaia and The Jim Henson Company are proud to present all-new tales of fantastic wonder and extraordinary myth, as told from the tongue of The Storyteller and his loyal canine companion! [1]

Review:

I very much dislike writing reviews of anthologies becuase they generally tend toward the average since I love some stories and dislike others. However, when NetGalley had this one I felt compelled to ask for it since it is based on one of my favorite shows. I rarely buy TV shows but this is one series that I own and re-watch regularly.  Unlike the TV show, but much like most anthologies, this was up down in terms of quality. I think this is an art bias on my part. Mostly I loved the stories and the storytelling but the varied art was distracting. I have noticed this before in graphic novel anthologies.

Old Nick & The Peddler by Roger Langridge and Jordie Bellaine  – In this story we learn to be care of making deals and I fell in love with Katie Grey, the devil smasher. Sadly I was not a fan of the art choice here. This was the first inkling that the more “comicbook” art work is the less I like/enjoy it.

The Milkmaid & Her Pail by Colleen Coover – I enjoyed this one. Any story which includes pirate queens even if it is the daydream of the milkmaid is tops in my book.

An Agreement Between Friends by Chris Eliopoulos and Mike Maihack – I new story for me, I had never heard any origin stories of why dogs and cats do not get along. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. The artwork seemed a bit rough and unfinished to me.

Old Fire Dragaman by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler – It’s a Jack tale. this dovetailed nicely with my other graphic novel reading, the Jack of Fables series. At the core Jack is an accidental hero and it is no different here. May one major issue here was the layout of the art. This made it difficult to read, but that may be an effect of reading the novel on the screen rather than in print.

Puss In Boots by Marjorie M. Liu and Jennifer L. Meyer – By far and away my favorite in the book. The art was beautiful and the story sweet. They were well matched and lovely together.

The Frog Who Became An Emperor by Paul Tobin and Evan Shaner – This was one of my least favorites. The art was choppy as was the story. I hate when stories, even fairy tales have inconsistencies or illogical jumps and this story had a few.

The Crane Wife by Katie Cook – One of the more famous Animal wife motif stories. The art seemed a muted manga style. I almost wished it had be a bit more bold to match the story better.

Momotaro The Peach Boy by Ron Marz and Craig Rousseau – I had heard this story before as my husband’s cousin used to tell it when he would return home from Japan where is was living. It is one of my girls favorite stories since it involved animals helping humans. Here is it presented in a completely story board kind of form. While interesting it was not the anthology’s most engaging story.

The Witch Baby Based on the unproduced Storyteller teleplay written by Anthony Minghella, Susan Kodieck and Anne Mountfield  and Adapted by Nate Cosby, Ronan Cliquet and Adam Street – Hands down my favorite story in the book. Not my favorite art but my favorite story. If you are a reader you will not that I am a fan of the dark fairy tale and the Russians have a lock on them. This one is brilliance. Add to that the inclusion of the early storyteller and the use of the tarot and I would love to have seen this one on the screen.

Wordy Wednesday: We Need to Talk About Kevin

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We Need to Talk About Kevin tie-in: A Novel (P.S.)

Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin Author: Lionel Shriver
Publisher: Counterpoint Rating: 4star
Publication Date: 2003 Genre: Fiction, Adult Fiction, Drama

Why Picked: Can’t Remember

First Line: “I’m unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you.”

Summary:

The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry.

Eva never really wanted to be a mother and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails. [1]

Review:

Much Like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, I hate to like this book. It is a story of pain and tragedy, told by an un-sympathetic, sad narrator. As a sociologist / criminologist by training I found the tactic the author took interesting but flawed. But more about that in a moment.

The story is told in a s series of letters from our narrator “Eva” to her Husband “Franklin.” It is not a spoiler to say it is a tale told in mostly chronological flashbacks of how their son “Kevin” ends up a school shooter. Eva goes back to even before Kevin is born to talk about how ambivalent she was about becoming a parent. The letters then trace the history of her and Franklin and their decision to have a child.  That child grows up to shoot and kill his schoolmates.  While there are some surprise reveals throughout the story, anyone paying attention should not be too stunned by them.

The characters in the story are so simplistic in their motivation as to be completely realistic.  Let me explain.  Eva, I think, begins writing these letters because she feels Kevin is her fault.  She never bonded with him; she never loved him enough.  She always thought the worst.  If she had been a better mother maybe he would have been better. Yup, sounds like every mom I know.  What have we done?  Where have we gone wrong?  What should I have been doing better?  I have great kids who I often think I am failing.  Society has helped us by constantly reinforced the mother question.

And Franklin, dear, sweet Franklin, who turns a blind eye to Kevin and all of the red flags throughout the years.  Many reviews have said he is completely unbelievable.  But, really, what parent wouldn’t want to look the other way?  We all know those parents who have “perfect” children, children who are never at fault.  Isn’t Franklin just that guy?

So now we are left with her character study of Kevin.  And here is where everything becomes conjecture.  Because she argues Kevin was just born that way.  At least that is that take I got.  And isn’t that a nice, neat package.  There really is no one to blame because some kids are just born wrong.  And here is where the sociologist / criminologist in me comes un-hinged.  Why yes it could be that but by making the choices she makes she is clearly ignoring 100 other issues.  She is ignoring, willfully or otherwise, the culture of violence in America.  In making one choice, she is making a statement about guns which results in a situation which any parent knows would never happen.  She ignores the 100 or so people whom would have seen and question Kevin’s behavior before the end point of the story.

So for me the characters are achingly real.  It is the world she placed them in which falls flat.

Line

Wordy Wednesday: Wild Children

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 Wild Children

Title: Wild Children Author: Richard Roberts
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press 3star
Publication Date: 2012 Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult,

 

Why Picked: NetGalley, Cover Art

First Line: “I think I was nine the first time I saw a Wild Child.”

Summary:

Bad children are punished. Be bad, a child is told, and you’ll be turned into an animal, marked with your crime. The Wild Children are forever young, but that, too, can be a curse. Five children each tell a different story of what they became: One learns that wrong can be right, and her curse may be a blessing. Another is so Wild he must learn the simplest lesson, to love someone else. An eight year old girl must face fear and doubt as she dies of old age. Love and strangeness hit the lives of two brothers in the form of a beautiful flaming bird. Finally, the oldest child learns that what is right can be horribly wrong. Together they tell a sixth story, of a Wild Girl who can’t speak for herself, and doesn’t seem Wild at all. [1]

Review:

I have really struggled with this review. It is my first for NetGalley and I want to be sure that I am writing something which is true to myself and not influenced by the fact that it was and ARC or the promise of more ARCs.

Wild Children is six interwoven stories of children who have been “turned” wild. The actually mechanism by which with occurs is never completely explained to my understanding and it is not a hard and fast change. Children are turned to Hinds and Wolves and Doves and Cats and but their transformation is varied and different for each child. Think Pinocchio when he is turned to a donkey but some are more extreme and some are less.

Add to the transformational stories, stories of love and betrayal and sacrifice set in country towns, bustling cites and wealthy country estates.  These stories are in turns fascinating and bizarre. The stories start with the idea that transformation is a punishment for sin and sets up the dynamic of religious leaders and political leaders using Wild Children as pets and scapegoats throughout the rest of the stories. Alternatively in the stories are those who view the Wild Children as Angels or as something they aspire to be. Now add in magic, alchemical theory and a war between the factions of the church and seeds of revolution and you get a vague over view of the book.

I wish that this book had picked a path. It suffered from too many ideas and not enough development. I never fully understood how or why children transformed. In some cases it seemed to be the results of a potion. In other cases it was the result a mystical underworld journey and encounter with a godlike creature. Also, I never understand why adults could not transform. The religious and political storylines were interesting but rushed and never quite resolved. In the end I felt like I was reading bits and pieces of a larger novel. Granted this is a larger novel that was intriguing and bizarre in all the best ways and one I would love to read but as it stands I was left feeling a bit baffled and unsatisfied.

CymLowell