Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Midnight in Austenland

by Shannon Hale
New York : Bloomsbury USA, 2012.

Charlotte Kinder is not heroine material. She's a divorced mother of two who reads Agatha Christie novels, and after her husband had an affair and left her, her heart's pretty numb. But after she breaks out of her mystery fix to read Jane Austen, she decides to go off to Austenland in which can act like one of Austen's beloved heroines for two weeks while being romanced by a dashing gentlemen - all in Regency-appropriate behavior (and capped with a ball).

Shannon Hale may be better known for her teen fantasy books, but her chick lit is just as much fun. In this book, as in Austenland, she proves how much of an Austen fan she is, even while providing a fun, modern story in its own right. Unbelievable at times? Oh sure, but I didn't really care in the end. I didn't remember much of what happened in the first book in the series, but Midnight in Austenland stands just fine on its own. I especially enjoyed the clear references to Northanger Abbey and laughed out loud at Charlotte's "Inner Thoughts" talking back to her.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

by Heidi W. Durrow
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010.

Rachel lives with her grandmother because her mother, in a fit of depression, pushed her children and jumped off the roof of a nine-story apartment complex. Rachel survived.

This is the sort of book that I don't necessarily like while I'm reading, but as it lingers in my mind and I turn over elements of it in my thoughts, I realize how powerful and beautiful it was. The structure is a little difficult. Rachel's narrates her parts of the story, while the experiences of Laronne (her mother's boss), Jamie (the boy who witnessed her brother falling), and others are interspersed in a story that covers about five years in non-chronological order.

As if her mother's suicide and her siblings' deaths weren't enough to deal with, Rachel is of mixed race, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black father, and has to deal with racism and people in the black community telling her she's "acting white." But the book doesn't read like an "issues" book, it's just Rachel's story of adolescence, growing up, finding her identity and understanding her past. It's very internal, almost a collection of impressions rather than a straightforward plot. A few sentences made me stop in my tracks because I had to think about them, rather than rush on to the end. The story itself is how Rachel describes the blues: storing up all sorts of sadness, but making something beautiful out of it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


by Garth Nix
[S.l.] : PerfectBound, 2003.

*Third book in a trilogy* - check out Sabriel and Lirael first!

When we left Lirael and Sam, they had retreated to the Abhorsen's house, pursued by the Dead. We find them much as they were, preparing to leave, knowing that they have to go up against what is known as the Destroyer, a being that was bound but now is trying to put itself back together, with the help of a necromancer, Hedge, and the unwitting help of Sam's friend Nick. Lirael still has to try to meet Nick, to make what the Clayr Saw become true before it's too late.

The third book in the trilogy is essentially a race against the clock, as Sam and Lirael try to stop Hedge before the hemispheres that are the Destroyer can come together. It also nicely rounds out the world-building that Nix has been doing all along, giving us a fuller picture of the Charter, Free Magic, and the beginning of the Old Kingdom. If I wasn't quite as engaged with this one as I was with Sabriel and Lirael, I know it was primarily because I had read the books right on top of the other and I had more calls on my time in the last several days that distracted me from reading. I would certainly consider this a trilogy worth rereading.

Monday, February 20, 2012


by Garth Nix
New York : PerfectBound, 2001.

If you haven't read Sabriel, better get to that one before reading the review below. :)

Fourteen some-odd years after Touchstone and Sabriel defeat Kerrigor, all is still not well in the Old Kingdom. Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr, chafes that she cannot See into the future like all her relatives; Prince Sameth, going to school in Ancelstierre, has such a terrible encounter in Death that he fears going back, though he is the Abhorsen-in-waiting.

The third-person narrative moves back and forth between Lirael and Sam's points of view, giving readers a more complete but not whole picture of events going on. An unnamed enemy seems to be doing something that is still breaking Charter stones and blocking the Clayr's sight. Neither Lirael nor Sameth are particularly happy with their lot, since they don't seem to fit in with other people's expectations. This was a little annoying at times, but completely understandable (especially as they're teenagers...). In truth, however, they both have important roles to play. Mogget returns, and another talking animal/magical being is introduced - the Disreputable Dog, a character which made me laugh many times by its very doglike behavior.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Castle of Otranto

by Horace Walpole
Champaign, Ill. : Boulder, Colo. : Project Gutenberg, [199-?] (orig. pub. 1764)

This classic tells the story of Manfred, who is prince of Otranto, as his father and grandfather before him. An odd prophecy dogs him, and he is determined to marry his son to a young woman, Isabella. But mysterious forces appear to be working against Manfred, beginning with a giant helmet that falls out of the sky, killing his son.

I'm sure the story was supposed to have - and once upon a time did have - a creepy feel to it. Every now and then, I did get a bit of that delicious thrill down the spine that the supernatural elements were supposed to engender. Most of the time, however, I couldn't quite suspend my disbelief enough to really embrace the story, and I found myself laughing (only sometimes when I should have been). I enjoyed the story, and I enjoyed following the tutoring thread even more, but I enjoyed it more for the analysis as a predecessor of Gothic novels, never really sinking into the story enough to be fully invested in it, but observing it from the outside.

This was the second e-book I read, and the first I downloaded from Project Gutenberg. I have to say, the whole process of reading on my e-reader has been quite enjoyable. I loved being able to highlight passages and look up words right away in a built-in dictionary. While my e-reader doesn't replace the experience of reading a paper book, I really liked having its lightness in bed while I was sick last week.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


by Garth Nix
New York : PerfectBound, 2001.

Sabriel, the Abhorsen's daughter, has been living across the wall from her home country in the Old Kingdom, living in a boarding school in Ancelstierre. But when her father fails to show up for their monthly meeting, she knows something is dreadfully wrong, and she returns home to find him.

This is the first book in a trilogy that I first read when I was about sixteen or so. I hadn't read much fantasy beyond C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at that point, and I remember the sort of mixed feeling of enjoyment and dread of reading a fantasy story - and one that talked about necromancy (though the real necromancers are bad...). I was curious to see how the book would change in a reread, after many more years of my reading the genre. It didn't have that same sort of forbidden pleasure, and now I can say that it has some of the tropes of the genre (Touchstone's identity, for example, was extremely easy to figure out). But as one of the first representative works of the genre in my mental library, even its familiarity was fun. I'd forgotten much of the details in the decade plus since I'd read it, and enjoyed it all over again as I re-met Sabriel, the Abhorsen, and Mogget. All in all, it was definitely worth revisiting.