Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Shall Wear Midnight

by Terry Pratchett
New York : Harper, 2010.

The fourth and last of the Tiffany Aching series begins with Tiffany set apart from the rest of the town. She is a witch. Roland will barely acknowledge that they were once friends, and the townspeople look on her with distrust. They need her, and they don't like that they need their witch. She soon realizes, however, that something much more dark and sinister than the townspeople is behind their distrust.

I really enjoyed returning to Tiffany Aching's Discworld. This book was the most connected of the mini-series to the larger series, with references to the wizarding university, Ankh-Morpork, and other characters familiar to series readers. Yet it works as a standalone as well. It had been four years since I read Wintersmith, but had no trouble following the story line and appreciated the short references that reminded me of Tiffany's past adventures without devolving into paragraphs of exposition. While a few elements left me scratching my head, the story moves along at a steady pace and I read it in a day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Surprised by Joy

by C.S. Lewis
New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, c1955.
(my paperback copy was most certainly printed more recently than the copyright date, but I can't find the information regarding it)

In his introduction, Lewis makes it clear that he is not writing your normal autobiography, but is writing specifically about the events leading up to his conversion to Christianity. In some ways, I found it to be the autobiography of a mind and heart, from his early days in boarding school, his interests in mythology, and his growing dissatisfaction with the philosophies he once adhered to.

I have difficulty conceiving of anyone enjoying the book unless they agreed with either his particular scholar's mind or his belief in the God of Christianity. I happen to be in the latter camp, and confess that at times his mind eluded me. Whole passages referring either to the books that most moved him or schools of modern thought of his times completely eluded my grasp, and I can only conclude that my mind must work very differently from his or that I must have a longer time on this earth before I can fully grasp his reflections on childhood, boyhood, and young adulthood. Yet then a sentence, a thought, would break through and give me pause or move me to tears. This is a book that I would reread not so much because of any initial enjoyment but because my appreciation would increase, perhaps once I read another biography or some of the classics which molded his thought.

Friday, December 24, 2010

An Assembly Such as This

by Pamelia Aidan
New York : Touchstone Book, c2006.

If you know Pride and Prejudice, you already know the "what" of this story and the sequels to follow. As this is the story from Darcy's point of view, however, you may not be acquainted with the "how." Instead of following the Bennets through their mother's machinations, dinner conversations, trips to dances and London, we follow Darcy and Bingley.

While this story may be retreading familiar ground, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Aidan clearly loves Austen, and her familiarity with Pride and Prejudice comes through strongly in her use of particular scenes and her reinterpretation of them. Sometimes the dialogue is straight from the original, and other times the conversation is subtly changed, as if each party had remembered the incident with a slightly different emphasis or wording. Her characters ring true to me, and I enjoyed her explanation of Darcy's thoughts behind some of his statements. As this is the first story in the trilogy, the book only goes as far as Darcy and Bingley's retreat to London. A delightful story, and I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Mischief of the Mistletoe

by Lauren Willig
New York, N.Y. : Dutton, 2010.

The daughter of a vicar, Arabella had been the companion of a rich aunt, but when said aunt married a young man that had once appeared interested in Arabella herself, she was sent home in disgrace. Despite her friend Jane Austen's urging to the contrary, Arabella decides to become a teacher at a girl's finishing school, hoping that her position will allow her younger sisters to attend. Then she meets Turnip Fitzhugh - or rather, he bowls her over. Add to this a rather mysterious Christmas pudding that unexpectedly brings her and Turnip together once again, and let the shenanigans begin.

A co-worker recommended this to me saying I might enjoy the witty repartee between characters. I did, though it was far to witty and a little silly to be realistic. It's light fun, perfect for the week before Christmas craziness of a moment to read here and there between errands and after work and when I generally didn't want a taxing read. Though not without faults, such as the sometimes ridiculous dialogue exchanges between characters, I enjoyed it enough to look up the rest of the series.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Ring of Solomon

by Jonathan Stroud
New York : Disney/Hyperion Books, 2010.

Before he was summoned by a magician hoping to get revenge in an alternate England, Bartimaeus served one of the many magicians working for King Solomon. Yes, that King Solomon known far and wide for his wisdom and his many wives. But this King Solomon is also known for the ring he possesses, a ring that gives him much power to make demands and to rule over powerful magicians too afraid to cross him. Over in Sheba, young Asmira serves her Queen and country. When Solomon demands that the queen marry him or pay tribute, Queen Balkis sends Asmira on an assassination mission.

Though billed as the prequel to the Bartimaeus Trilogy, this story could absolutely stand on its own. A few characters reappear including, of course, Bartimaeus himself, but this recognition is not necessary at all to the enjoyment of the story. If you have read The Bartimaeus Trilogy, some of the storytelling devices may sound familiar. We are given two characters whose points of view we move between: Bartimaeus and a human. Bartimaeus is his wise-cracking, sarcastic self, and his first-person narration is complete with footnotes. Asmira's side of the story is told in third-person, so we are a little more distanced from her while still understanding her motivations and desires. Unlike The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I wasn't hooked right away. At first the story didn't grip me, and the humor felt forced. I was slightly annoyed with the preachy tone. The story was making good points and didn't need to be quite so blatant in its portrayal of them. But once I hit the halfway point, I felt like something gave. The plot started moving faster, the jokes made me chuckle, and I wanted to devote reading time to seeing what happened. Was it as good as original three? Nah, but it would be hard to compete. Once again, Bartimaeus won me over.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bink & Gollie

by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2010.

This is the story of two friends, Bink and Gollie. Each of them are quite individual, and they don't always agree, but in the end what matters most is their friendship and what they have in common.

Though not a picture book, the story is told as much through illustrations as the wordsm which are primarily used to convey the characters' speech. The illustrations are simple but convey emotion brilliantly. I like how individual Bink and Gollie are in both looks and temperament, and I like the way the sort of disagreements that friends have is conveyed in a realistic way without coming across as patronizing to the children for whom these spats are very real and very important.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Reluctant Reread

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
by J.K. Rowling
narrated by Jim Dale
New York, NY : Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003 (book)
New York : Listening Library, p2003 (audiobook)

Lord Voldemort has returned. Cedric Diggory died. Harry is left at the Dursleys again this summer, and no one in telling him anything of importance. He's whisked away to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix - a group of adult wizards trying to defeat Voldemort - and finds out that no one else is particularly sure what's going on, either. Voldemort's been keeping quiet, apparently after something that he didn't have last time he was in power; meanwhile, the Ministry refuses to believe Harry and Dumbledore's report of Voldemort's return and The Daily Prophet has started a smear campaign to discredit them.

This has always been my least favorite of the series, and one that I have not reread as often as the first four. Usually, I get annoyed with Harry and his attitude and his downright whiny behavior, especially in the first half of the book. But this time was different. Maybe it was the fact that I was listening to the audio. Jim Dale's narration really brings out each of the characters and their emotions, and I zone out a little sometimes with stories I'm familiar with. I don't think that's the whole story, though, as I was more prone to stop what I was doing to listen to or read the story. No, I think it was because this was the first time rereading it after I finished the series. Some of the explanations to come made a huge difference in how I interpreted Harry's actions, and I found myself listening for clues to that later revelation. As a result, my understanding of events was richer, and I'm really looking forward to my first reread of Half-Blood Prince.

Friday, December 3, 2010


by Cornelia Funke
New York : Little, Brown, 2010.

Ever since his father's disappearance, Jacob Reckless has looked out for his mother and younger brother, Will. One day while searching his father's office, young Jacob finds a mirror that brings him into a world where fairy tales are real - but much like those of another pair of brothers, the world can be dark and deadly. Twelve years later, Will follows his brother into the Mirrorworld, where he is attacked by the Goyl and begins turning into one of them, his skin becoming jade. Prophecies of the Jade Goyl say that he will make their king invincible, but Jacob will do everything in his power to save his brother from becoming one of them.

Ever since I read The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke has been one of my go-to authors. Her worlds are sometimes dark but always compelling. The Mirrorworld has everything fearful from fairy tales, but the machinations, jealousy, and love of its characters make it seem as real as our own world where "happily ever after" rarely comes without a price. The ending leaves an opening for more books to come, and I hope that's the case.