Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Speeding

Long night on the ambulance last night, pretty tired and out of it today, so here is a quick pick me up
Hope everybody has a great book filled day!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fire Demons, Living Scarecrows And Moving Castles Oh My

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones makes me so HAPPY!!!!!!  I love everything about this book, every piece of it, every page of it, every word of it (in case you were wondering...I liked the book).  This is a case of a book that has it all, well developed characters, amazing world building, humor, magic, and the writing itself is pretty much flawless.  The only possible minor flaw (and that is if this sort of thing bugs you) is that the background of the plot skips around a bit and it may not bee 100% clear to everyone exactly what happens, but I will try and put it together the best I can.  WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!
Our story centers around Sophie, the oldest of three daughters.  Her sisters are the beautiful, clever and headstrong Lettie and the happy and spirited Martha.  Sophie feels that as the oldest it will never fall to her to seek her fortune, but instead to stay at home and run her father's hat shop in the prosperous town of Market Chipping (A Victorian era type town).  Sophie is the main decorator of these hats and any hat she touches tends to take on a life of it's own, for example to a certain hat, she told it that it had a heart of gold and somebody in a high position would marry it.  Sure enough, a homely girl with no prospects bought the hat and ran of with a count the very next week!  Sophie's sisters have been apprenticed out, Martha was sent to Mrs.Fairfax to learn magic, and Lettie was sent to the bakery to be a shop girl.  Sophie decides to visit Lettie at the bakery and discover that the girls have switched places as it better suites their temperaments and likes.  On her way to and from the bakery Sophie has discovered that she has become very fearful of the faster 
pace of life outside her shop.  Back in the hat shop Sophie is on her own when the notorious Witch of the Waste comes in and places a spell on her, turning her into an old woman.  Deciding she has nothing to loose, she sets out to seek her fortune.  On the way she stumbles upon an upside down scarecrow, whom she sets back to rights and a poor dog tied to a stick stuck in the bushes.  Sophie untangles the dog and takes the stick for herself to use as a sort of walking stick.  Sophie ends up stumbling upon a patchwork castle that is slowly moving around the countryside.  This is Howl's castle, the dwelling of a well known dandy of a powerful wizard who is rumored to lure young girls to his castle and then eat their hearts.  Sophie is not to worried as she is now an old lady and just wants a warm chair by the fire.  Sophie gets into the castle and finds a chair, but the fire turns out to be a demon named Calcifer who wants her to break the contract between it and Howl, in return he will break her spell.  Sophie agrees but cannot get any more information about what the contract is or how to break it.  Howl's apprentice finds Sophie and decides to let her stay the night.  Sophie determined to stay in the castle becomes the cleaning lady.  Howl lets her stay and proves himself to be a most vain and impulsive, yet not unkind young man.  The majority of his time is spent either in the bathroom using various potions and powders to make himself attractive, or wooing young ladies and then loosing interest as soon as they fall for him.  Howl and Sophie have a bit of a love/hate relationship, the kind you have with somebody who you absolutely adore, but can irritate the heck out of you at any given moment. The castle door is very unique in that depending on which of the four colors you turn a knob, the 
door will open to one of  four places, including Wales where Howl is originally from.  The fouresome (Howl, Sophie, Michael and Calcifer) have a couple of adventures and mishaps, mostley with Sophie at the middle of them. Eventually it comes out that Howl has been cursed by the Witch of the Waste and when it comes true he will be compelled to go back to her.  Also along side all of this the Kings wizard is missing, along with the kings brother Prince Justin. The King wants Howl to become his new wizard and to find his brother, but Howl wants no part of it, so he changes his castle to open to new places, including the old hat shop where Sophie used to work, but now the group decides to sell flowers.  Eventually the Witch of the Waste catches up with Howl, and Sophie who discovers she has magic of her own, goes to try and save Howl.  Eventually the witch is defeated, but turns out she is not the big baddie.  The Witch had given her heart to a fire demon who was not as nice as Calcifer, and it was trying to take over Howl.  Sophie finially realizes what the contract between Calcifer and Howl is.  When Howl was younger he caught a falling star that was dying, instead of letting it go, he offered the dying star his heart in exchange for power.  Sophie retrieves Howl's heart from Calcifer and together they defeat the old fire demon.  Calcifer decides to stay and Sophie realizes her curse is broken.  Howl informs her that he knew she was cursed all along, but no matter how hard he tried he could not break it.  Turns out Sophie was hanging on to her guise as an old lady as a way to do what she wanted without having to worry about propriety or anything like that.  Once she no longer needed that disguise, the curse went away on it's own accord.  Howl and Sophie kiss and decide that they are about the only two who can stand each other for long periods of time and live adventurously ever after.
This summary can hardly do this book justice.  There are so many other characters and sub-plots and places that...well just go read the book already.  This book shows the gamut of human emotions, greed, vanity, kindness, charity, perseverance  fear, and love.  Love is it's own very special thing in this book because the author shows the full extent of all the different kinds of love out there.  So many times a book get's stuck on "true love" of the romantic variety and forgets all of the other wonderful ways to love that are out there.   There is family love, shown by Howl's love for his sister and her kids, even though she does not approve of what he does, and Sophie and her sisters, never once are they enemies, but united in love...even Martha who is only a half-sister.  There is love of friends, as when Howl takes in Michael and trains him and watches out for his best interest, or between Calcifer and Howl even if it seems lopsided on occasion, they are constantly watching each others backs.  There is parent/child love as seen when the King is willing to do anything to protect his young daughter (who he keeps with him at all times, even in the council chamber) or when Fanny, who is the step-mother to Sophie and Lettie and mother to Martha does her best to try and make life as 
good as she can for all three girls, not just her own daughter.  And yes their is romantic love as well, we see the silly love of Howl chasing after girls, until it is no longer fun, we see Michael doing everything he can to win Lettie's love, and we see the exasperating, irritating, comfortable, actually knowing somebody and loving them anyways flaws and all love that takes the whole book to develop between Sophie and Howl.  The author knows how to write humans, she knows how to make their emotions, actions and reactions genuine and believable all while setting it in this fantastic world of endless possibilities   With a flick of the knob, a change of color and you can potentially be anywhere in the universe.  All this does not even begin to describe the wonderful sense of humor that pervades the whole story.  It would be easy for a story like this to get very dark, but all of the characters keep a sense of perspective to it all that keeps the book very fresh and enjoyable, Sophie especially has some great lines as her old lady self.   There is a Miyazaki animated film version of this book that is story wise pretty different, but tone and style wise absolutely magnificent, I would highly recommend it.  I give this book a 10 out of 10 jewel encrusted tiaras, it is excellent and everybody should read it.
If you could have a door that led to four places, where would those places be?  Are my extreme ramblings ever making any sense whatsoever?  How many different worlds are out there do you think?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Online Impulse

Gee...hmmm...well yes, those giant packages heaped by my front door are mine.  Oh...well...yes I do know where they are from.  How do I know where there from...maybe 'cause I went a little crazy online yesterday and bought a ton of books? (this is the conversation I had with my Hubbin the other day)

What? It is not my fault, I was looking for an older book that I could only find online and the rest just sort of jumped into my virtual cart, what was a girl supposed to do, just abandon the poor little things?  (Hint, if you are trying to save money, don't look at your future reading list while at an online bookstore!)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Clockwork Covers

Happy Birthday (a day late) to my wonderful Baby Sis!  Steampunk is a fast growing genre in everything from clothes, to music, even to books!  The following are some really awesome covers that highlight the Steampunk world.  (Please note, these are not necessarily books about Steampunk, that is for another post)

Clockwork Sketchbook
Steampunk Cover
Art Nouveau Steampunk
Steampunk Clock Notebook
Jules Verne Steampunk
Now I want to run out and buy all of these just to have them looking good on my bookshelves at home.  I hope these have inspired you to go find/make/explore your own version of Steampunk, especially of the literary variety!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Magic Chocolate Pots

Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot caught my attention for two reasons. Reason one is I have a thing for really wordy titles (which is one reason why The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was such an instant winner for me).  Reason two is one of the authors is Patricia Wrede  who wrote the delightful Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  I was in the mood for something a bit on the light hearted side and this little book fit the bill perfectly.

The book is written entirely as letters between two friends, Kate, who is in London for the Season, and Cecelia who is left behind in the country with her stern aunt. The girls write back and forth about the daily going ons in each of there respective habitats, starting with innocent gossip about the locals, clothes, the horrors of being stuck with such dowdy chaperone's.  We begin to see that the girls are a mischievous duo, prone to pranks, exploring, and just getting into random bits of trouble.  Both girls however are kind hearted and deeply devoted friends.  Currently they are trying to ensure that Cecelia's brother Oliver and Kate's sister Georgina (whom they call Georgy).  It also comes to light that this story is set in an alternate world that has wizards and magic that is somewhat accepted in high society.  Think Harry Potter meets Jane Austen...actually it is quit a bit in a world like Howl's Moving Castle.  In London Kate runs into a sorceress named Miranda who has caught her in a trap that was meant for the wizard Thomas Schofield.  She escapes and mentions this in a letter to Cecelia who replies about meeting a new girl Dorothea who seems to have the unwanted ability to attract every boy in the area, including her brother Oliver. While on an outing with her new friend Cecilia catches a young noble man James Tarleton clumsily spying on the group.  When she confronts him, he makes some excuse and leaves, only to be caught by her multiple more times.  Cecelia is also concerned when she finds a charm bag between the mattresses of Oliver's bed, as her aunt if VERY against anyone practicing magic in the house.  Meanwhile back in London, many a thing goes awry and Oliver who has come to visit Georgina ends up disappearing after a scheme by devious wizards to kidnap him goes wrong.  Cecelia discovers that the bad sorceress Miranda is actually Dorothea's step-mother and that she has plans to take the girl to London and use her to get revenge on the wizard Thomas, then
essentially sucking all of the youth out of her to make herself young again (as she has been doing for close to 70 years).  In London, Thomas, the wizard in the middle of all of this helps to clarify what has been going on.  He was the apprentice of Sir Hilary Bedrick (who has turned out to be a bad sorcerer) and when it was discovered how much power Thomas had, Sir Hilary decided to try and steal it for himself.  It is the practice of wizards to put some of their power into an object to easier use it and the only object Thomas had at the time was the title Blue Chocolate Pot.  Sir Hilary stole the pot and is now using Thomas's magic to further his own goals.  After reading this Cecelia once again confronts James and finds out that he is helping his friend Thomas get the pot back.  Cecelia starts sneaking into Sir Hilary's library, getting herself into all kinds of trouble.  She also starts to study magic under a friend of James, and starts making her own charm-bags for safety.  Back in London, Thomas has asked Kate to pretend to become engaged to him, to protect him from the spell Miranda has cast over Dorthea to attract men.  He informs Kate that when it is all over she can dump him in any way it pleases her.  Kate agrees and goes so far as to meet his mother, who is a powerful sorceress in her own right.  Back in the country Cecelia manages to break the Enchanted Chocolate Pot, releasing Thomas from any hold Sir Hilary had on him, but in the mean time gets trapped along with James in a spell he is using to extract magic from her brother Oliver, a spell that will surly kill them all.  Kate and Thomas spend time trying to stop Miranda in London from accomplishing her mission of eternal youth.  Kate gets caught by Miranda, but is saved when Thomas and his mother come to the rescue, reducing Miranda to a very very very old shriveled up lady.  Cecelia, James and Oliver are saved by her aunt and her magic teacher, turns out that magic runs very strongly in the family and a terrible accident once occurred leading to a death, which is why their aunt was so reluctant to allow magic.  Once all of the bad magicans have been taken care of in a most thourghly pleasing manner, Kate and Thomas get married for real and Cecelia and James join them at the altar, everybody living mostly happily ever after.

This book actually started out as a game between the two authors Ms. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.  The two set a very loose world and wrote to each other as the two main characters.  They kept this up for sometime, neither of them knowing what was coming next until they received the next letter.  Eventually they realized that they had a ton of letters and with a little editing a pretty decent little story.  I enjoyed this book, the writting was light hearted and fresh.  By using the letters you got to know both girls fairly well, their different personalities and the way they both went about solving the mysteries.  I loved that they kept up the gossip and clothes talk, as a girl their age in that time period would find all that very important, even amidst the danger and intrigue they were caught up in.  It go a little confusing at times, especially when you were trying to piece together how everybody was related/known/attached to everyone else.  The ending was a bit abrupt, but that was also due to the nature of the letter writting style so that can be mostly forgiven.  Overall it was fun and quick and a little bit different, I give it 7 out of 10 cups of chocolate.
What do you think of the letter writing style of the book?  How cool is it that this all started as a game?  Who wants to start a letter writing game with me?  What is your favorite alternate magic book?

Thursday, February 21, 2013


A few little funny tidbits for you.

Book humor :)
A little book humor...  Book 1: "You look so much thinner!."  Book 2: "Thanks, I had my appendix removed." ... ... ©2009 Sardonic Salad.
Book humor
SCARY CAMPFIRE TALES! ... Big Book: "And then... After they had ripped out half of her pages... They turned her ... into a movie!" - - -  Little camper books:  "Gasp!" "Gasp!"  [Cartoonist & Origin unknown]  Book Humor. The horror of it all!
Hope you got a bit of a laugh!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Spot Of Tea

Just finished the third series of Downton Abbey (which my Hubbin calls Downtown Alley) and it was a heart wrencher.  Aside from giving me the urge to reread all my Jane Austen books, I also have had an incredible urge to ring the butler for a spot of tea.  Now we all know that I am a die hard coffee drinker (coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee), but every once in a while it is nice to sip an herbal brew or two, especially when reading about the wild moors of Scotland, or curled up in your London flat.
Teacup Book Cover
How cute is this teacup book cover with a tea bag book mark!
Mad Hatter Teapot
What tea party would be complete without a Mad Hatter teapot?
Pride and Prejudice Tea Cup - Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice Tea Cup
You will feel quit Austeny (that's a word I swear) sipping tea out of this tea cup with one of her most famous quotes.
Teapot and Cups Bookends
These would make a classy, yet whimsical addition to any bookshelf
Tea Book
This beautiful book is actually full of tea! 

What is your favorite tea?  Do you prefer tea or coffee with your books (or something stronger)?  Does reading certain books ever make you crave a particular food or drink? If my brothers wife is reading this, this whole post makes me think of you :-)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

In The Beginning

Continuing with our Chronicles of Narnia series I have finished The Magician's Nephew.  I want to say this is one of my favorites...but I think I have said that about all of the books in this series up to this point.  This book tells us how Narnia was created and how the comings and goings between Narnia and our world all began.  Here is how the story goes.
Once upon a time there were two children living in pre-WWI London.  These children were named Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer and they were both stuck in London for the summer holidays.  Digory is staying with his Aunt Letty and Uncle Andrew while his father is in India because his mother is very sick and probably dying.  To amuse themselves they discovered a bit of a passageway in the attics that ran the whole length of the row houses that the children lived in.  One day while exploring this passage they stumbled into the attic of Digory's slightly mad Uncle Andrew.  Uncle Andrew had spent his life pursuing the study of magic and is now ready for some human experimentation.  There is a tray of rings in this mad man's attic study, each set a pair of rings, one with a yellow stone and one with a green stone.  Uncle Andrew tells Polly to 
take a yellow ring as a gift, but the moment she takes it, she vanishes.  Digory is understandably upset and starts to freak out a bit, but Uncle Andrew tells him there may be a way to get her back.  He tells Digory if he takes a green ring with him he can use the yellow ring to go wherever Polly is (Uncle Andrew does not know much about wherever it is he sends the children) and bring himself and Polly home.  Digory uses the yellow ring and finds himself in a vast, quiet, rich, living wood that he dubs The Wood Between Worlds (this may have contributed to my tree obsession).  The other feature of this place is the endless small pools scattered between the trees.  Polly and Digory discover that each of the pools is a different world and that the yellow ring brings them to the woods and the wearing the green ring while jumping into a pool will take you to another world. Digory and Polly decide to explore another pool and end up on the desolate world of Charn.  While in this world Digory awakens a powerful sorceress queen by the name of Jadis and inadvertently brings her back to London.  The queen wreaks havoc on London and is eventually taken back to the woods and then to another world by the children using the rings.  Along with the children and the queen, Uncle Andrew, a cabbie and his horse also get drawn into this other place.  At first they seem to have landed in an empty world, but they soon notice a huge lion singing.  As he sings a fresh new world comes into being.  Mountains and oceans form, animals appear, trees and grass grow, it is all pretty awesome.  The queen however is not enjoying herself very much and tries to hurt the lion by throwing the iron crossbar of a lamppost from London at the beast.  She does not succeed in slowing the lion down, but a living lamppost grows from the bar (the same one we see later in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)  The lion of course turns out to be Aslan and he has created Narnia and the surrounding 
countries, giving the gift of speech to certain animals and populating the world with creatures such as dryads and fauns and such.  Because Digory brought the queen to Narnia it is his job to fetch the means of protecting it.  Aslan turns the cabbie's horse into a winged horse and he flies the children to a far away garden which contains a tree of life.  While in the garden Digory encounters the queen who has eaten an apple and therefore now has eternal life.  She tries to tempt Digory to first eat an apple for himself, or at least bring one back to heal his dying mother.  As much as Digory wants to save his mother, he knows he has to keep his promise and bring the apple back to Aslan.  Aslan commands Digory to plant the apple.  In the meantime Uncle Andrew has had a rough time of it, not being able to accept what he is seeing, he is perpetually frightened.  Aslan has him sleep while he crowns the cabbie and his wife (who has been brought to Narnia by Aslan) the first King and Queen of Narnia.  These kind people rule the country justly and kindly and their children become the King's and Queens of the surrounding countries as well.  Aslan gives an apple to Digory and sends the children and Uncle Andrew back to London with the command to dispose of the rings that allowed them to travel between worlds.  Digory's mother recovers fully and they all move to the big house that again comes into play in LWW.  Digory plants the apple core and buries all the rings around the resulting tree.  Eventually the tree is blown over by a storm and is used by Digory to build a wardrobe.  Digory becomes Professor Kirke, and he and his family and Narnia live happily ever for the most part.
Another book in the series I absolutely love (are we sensing a pattern here).  I love a good prequel and this one is well thought out, tying it back to the other books in the series.  I think my favorite part is the Wood Between the Worlds, I love the endless possibilities it presents and love that even though they are not all explored in this story, that they are there for me to imagine.  I like that Narnia is not the only other acknowledged world in the universe, and that the stories and travel possibilities are potentially endless.  I enjoyed that no matter how epic the scope of this story gets (endless universes, world creating, words that can destroy all life), at the heart it is still about the simple relationships between everyday people.  The back and forth between the worlds is cool, I like that in this book (which is echoed a bit in LWW) a person has a bit of control over their comings and goings.  This book for me represents all the different ways a person can travel, learn, see, experience, and imagine, it is a story of possibilities, of variety, and of beginnings and endings.  This is one of those books that sets my own imagination turning, giving me a base on which to try and think on all the different varietions of worlds you could get to.  Obviously I love this book :-)  I am now going to go gaze into pools and see if I can find the Wood Between the Worlds

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dainty Paper Cups

Check out these amazing cups made from the pages of books by the artist Cecilia Levy

These are just a few of her amazing works of art using paper, go to her website and check out what other cool things she has there...also who wants to get me a set of these?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

True Love

I am not really a Valentines person, I have never been the sappy, star-struck romantic type and think a good book and a cup of coffee is better than roses and jewelry any day...I'll take the box of chocolates though :-)  This got me thinking about my favorite love stories, usually the relationship part of books is my least favorite part, mostly because almost always falls into a trope of love e.g. insta-love, I am a bad boy/girl who is mean and awful to you and yet we are still destined to be together love, realizing the best friend is the love of my life love after I have done horrible things to him, but he still loves me anyways because I am irresistible love etc.  Every once in a while, I do read of a love story that I actually enjoy.  Here are a few of my favorite (and yes some of these fall into the above tropes, but hey it's my blog so pbllttt!) romances that seem to make some sort of sense to me.
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy-This is probably my favorite relationship ever.  Pride and Prejudice takes the trope of "loving against ones will" and dumps it on it's head.  One of my favorite parts is when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth in what may be one of the most insulting manners ever, instead of swooning over the fact that he loves her against all odds, this is her reply “I might as well enquire,” replied she, “why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?” It is not until much later, when both parties have actually gotten to know each other and discuss their feeling AND their future AND clearing up all misunderstandings that they both actually decide to proceed with a relationship.  This is a great example of a person valuing themselves enough to want an equal partnership, not one were she would be resented for the love she receives.
Nick Bottom and Titania-This is my favorite Shakespearean couple ever, you can keep Romeo and Juliet give me an Ass-headed buffoon and an enchanted fairy queen any day. A Midsummer Night's Dream is my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies and takes every form of love and puts it on display.  There is true love, implied love, told by your father who you are going to marry love, enchanted love, comical love, stage love, fairy love, parental love, friend love, all wrapped up in a deliciously magical package for all to see and hear.  If there is one time I am ok with love being forced on people by enchantment, it is in this story...mostly 'cause there is fairy's and a guy gets a donkey head and the beautiful and powerful queen of the fairies makes a fool of herself, which makes a little enchanted false love, endurable.
Sorcha and Red -This founding couple from Daughter of the Forest have what I consider one of the most believable long term relationships from the books I have read.  Even though Sorcha can't speak or write, they find ways to communicate with each other.  They fall in love at different rates over a long period of time and still love each other after many trial and separations.  When Sorcha gives him up because she thinks he has been spelled to love her, and knows that no matter how much she may love him, it would never be real if he did not have the choice to love her it made me sad 'cause I knew how much that had to hurt.  I mean that is real love if you are willing to make sure your partner has a free will in his/her decision to be with you.  Of course Red returns this love by giving up his throne to become part of her life (a far different ending from the usual, girl gives up her life to go live in the palace with the prince/king). This mutual respect for the other person is what makes this relationship work in the long term.
Ella and Char- Ella Enchanted is one of my favorite books in the whole wide world.  Part of the reason is that this Cinderella story is less about the poor orphan maid being saved by the dashing prince, and more about Ella figuring out how to fend for herself.  The fact that Ella is independent and self-sufficient is one of the things that Prince Char likes about Ella, in fact in one part of the book Ella actually saves the Prince. When the Prince declares his love for Ella (in a good old fashioned letter), she realizes two things, one that yes she is in love with Char, and two that her curse would be bad for the kingdom (finally a bit thought for the world outside of just two people).  Ella tells Char that she is married and breaks his heart.  I love the thought process behind her going to the ball (lends a sense of realism, I don't think I could stay away either) and in the end when she breaks the curse and insists and asking Char to marry her, instead of the other way around just makes me happy.
Menolly and Sebell- The Harper Hall Trilogy is not about a love story at all, in fact the character of Sebell does not even appear until the second book.  This is one of the most subtle love stories I have ever read, it is a slow gradual realization between two people who are busy living their lives that life is better when they are together.  I love love love that both the characters of Menolly and Sebell are quiet, gentle, strong people.  Neither of these two are overly outgoing, loud, sassy or any of the other "opposites attract" qualities that are so prevalent in books and movies.  These are just two smart, music loving people who work well together and just happened to be very attracted to each other as well.  Also I may still have a major book crush on Sebell, something about that quiet strength is just so attractive...reminds me of my Hubbin :-)
So that is a short list of a few of my favorite literary couples.  As you can see, I usually prefer my love stories to be a part of a bigger story and not the focal point.  I like believable love, I like love that results in an equal partnership, I like love that does not end a story because their is not where else to go, but rather starts a new journey of adventuring with your partner.  I like it when (as my Mamma would say) love is recognized as not a feeling, but rather a commitment.  There are other couples in stories that I like, and I may do another post on those later, but I think for the moment these best sum up feelings on reading about True Love!
Do you celebrate Valentines Day?  What is your favorite literary couple?  Do you think that unrealistic love is ok in books because it is supposed to be fantasy?  Do you prefer your couples to take center stage, or do you like the love story to be part of a larger whole?  Who is your literary crush?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Stealing Words To Stay Alive's, well I'm not really sure how to review this book so I guess I will just jump right in and hope you can figure out what my jumbled little brain is trying to say.  I just finished The Book Thief, it was a really tough read, but I am so glad I did.  First off, there will be spoilers, yep lots and lots of spoilers so you have been warned.  This is also a kind of jumpy all over the place book, so my rambling will probably be even more jumpier and all over the place than usual.  Ok here we go.
The Book Thief is about a lot of things, it is about life, death, words, power, hunger, friendship, family, neighbors, idea's, and hope and that is just in the first chapter.  The book is narrated by Death, which at first threw me off as his prose was a little flowery and disjointed for my taste (not everything needs to be described like modern art!), but as I got into the book the rhythm started to flow a lot better. Having Death as the voice for this book was a great choice as it allowed the reader to pretty much know everything in a way that made sense.
Death tells us the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl who will also be known as the book thief.  She and her younger are on their way to a foster home, when the boy dies on the train, this is Death's first meeting with Liesel.  The boy is buried and Liesel picks up a book dropped by the apprentice grave digger, it is her first foray into book thieving and she does it without even knowing the reason why.  She is taken to Himmel Street in a little town outside Munich and left with Hans and Rosa Hubermann.  Rosa is a foul-mouthed slab of a woman who shows her affection with vulgarities and pet names such as Saumensch which translates into pig.  Hans is a quiet man who takes to Liesel immediately.  Liesel has nightmares about her dead brother and Hans comes in to comfort her every night.  One night he discovers her stolen book and asks her if she would like to read it.  Liesel does not know how to read, she does not even know what her book is called (The Grave Diggers Handbook) and so begins her lessons. Hans (who is a painter by trade) takes his foster daughter to the basement and has her paint words on the walls until she knows them, and they read a little bit of her stolen book every night after she awakes from her nightmares.  This begins Liesel's attachment to books and words.  One night she is at a book burning in honor of the Fuhrer and she steals a book that escaped the flames, the book is called The Shoulder Shrug.  She is seen taken this illicit book by the mayors wife.
Meanwhile the Jewish son of a man who saved Han's life in the first war has arrived at the home of the Hubermanns.  Max is hidden in the cold basement in an attempt to save him from the growing persecution of the Jews by Nazi Germany.  Liesel befriends him and they start a beautiful, fragile friendship.  Through out all of this Liesel and her best friend Rudy (who once painted himself black and ran around the athletic track calling himself Jesse Owens) are constantly getting themselves into one scrape or another.  Rudy is in love with his friend and is constantly asking her for a kiss.  I wish I could better describe Rudy for you all with out rehashing the whole entire book because he is a great character, a good friend, strong, protective, brash, silly, confused, all of these things and so much much much more.  Liesel makes friends with the mayors wife who allows her to read the books in her private library, until one day she angers Liesel and in retaliation she starts to steal books from the mayors library.  Later it is discovered that the mayors wife was leaving the window open for Liesel and even leaving out cookies and such for the young book thief.  Max writes a book for Liesel using the painted over pages of the Nazi propaganda book Mein Kampf .  The book is called The Standover Man and is given to the girl for her birthday, this becomes one of her most beloved possessions. Bombings start to occur with a regular occurrence and while everybody is jammed into the bomb shelters, Liesel starts reading aloud to the group to keep everyone calm. Parades of captured Jews are soon brought marching through the town on their way to Dachau, the site of a concentration camp.  Hans and Liesel go to watch and Hans cannot help but try and alleviate the suffering of these wretched humans as they pass.  In punishment Hans is drafted into the army and sent to fight in Russia.  Max decides it is to dangerous for the Hubermanns if he
stays so after a tearful goodbye he leaves the family.  Rudy's father is also drafted into the army after refusing to let Rudy be taken away to be made into a super soldier.  Life and death continue on Himmel street and Liesel continues to steal books as a way to manage the chaos in her life.  One day Rosa gives Liesel another book that Max had left for her, this one is called The Word Shaker complete with illustrations, this has to be one of the most beautiful parts of this book.  Hans is injured in the war and is allowed to come back home to his family to the great joy of his wife and foster daughter.  The war continues and more Jews are marched through the streets.  While watching this dreadful parade, Leisel sees Max and goes to him, this results in a whipping for both of them.  Liesel in a fit of rage sneaks into the mayors wife's library and rips up a book, she leaves a note apologizing and says as punishment she will no longer come to the library.  The mayors wife show shows up on her doorstep with a blank journal for Leisel to write her own story.  Liesel takes her blank book down to the basement, the same basement where she learned to read, and where she spent time with her friend Max.  The painted words and pictures are still on the walls.  Liesel is in the basement finishing her story when one last bombing occurs.  This bombing completely wipes out Himmel street, along with two others.  Everybody is dead, Hans, Rosa, her neighbors, Rudy.  She is saved only because she was in the basement, saved by the very words that she had stolen over the years.  Leisel says finally kisses the dead lips of her best friend Rudy and she tries to say goodbye to her parents in the rubble of the street she had called home.  She is taken in by the mayor and his wife and eventually is reunited with Max who survives the concentration camps.  Death informs us that she eventually moved to Sydney Australia, got married and had children and grandchildren.  The last page is Death finally having a brief conversation with the book thief.

As long as that synopsis was, it did not capture even a little bit of what this book was about.  Every character, even ones only mentioned once or twice has a story.  The best part about Death being the narrator is that he could put in all these little asides (almost mini announcements) about what a character did, or was thinking, or what ultimately happened to them.  This book is technically mainly about Liesel, but
Rudy, Hans, Rosa, Max and all of the characters I did not have room to mention play just as big a role as the title character.  This is not a happy book at all, it is dark and depressing, yet oddly compelling.  The horrors in this story are all there for a reason and dealt with in a very humane way.  The portrayal of Death as a weary tired entity, just doing his job made each death that more poignant.  I liked the premise of this fairly ordinary little town in Germany and everything that they had to endure during the war.  We are so used to pointing to Germany and Germans being the bad guys in WWII, but I think we sometimes forget that it was a twisted man and a group of loyal idiots who inflicted most of the horrors on the world.  These little towns had to give everything to the cause, money, resources, family members, and if you did not agree with what was happening you suffered the hideous consequences.  These people lived their lives in fear, hunger and cold, they listened for the air raid sirens and were killed by bullets and bombs, just like the Allied countries. This glimpse into the lives of ordinary people really drives home the insanity of any war, where the people who suffer the most are the ones who have no say in the matter.
Again, I can not really express everything this book is without reprinting the whole thing, but I would recommend it to most people.  Be aware this is not a sweet book about a little girl overcoming adversity, it is a look at lives lived, lost, shattered, and put back together again. It is not a linear story told beginning to end (Death gives out spoilers generously throughout the book, in fact you know within the first few chapters that Rudy is going to die young in a bombing).  This book is not about surprises, or twist endings, but about humanity. It might take a little while to get into the flow of the book (it took me about 50 pages to get really immersed in it), but once you do it is hard to put down.  Read it and let me know what you think, I really want to hear other peoples reactions to this book.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Little Investment, A Lot of Payoff

I have noticed a trend that has become much more prominent with the rise of the e-book, and that is the prevalence of the novella.  What is a novella you ask, the definition is: a short novel or long short story...which is kind of oxymoronic.  I like to think of a novella as a way for author to explore a side character, give out a bit of a history, contemplate the future, or add and extra story to flavor a beloved series or book. I will usually consider something a novella when it hits between the 50-100 page mark.  Anything shorter to me is a short story, anything longer a full novel.  I have a couple of novellas in print form, but most of them I have found are available almost exclusively as ebooks.  This makes sense because you don't have to pay full blown publishing and printing costs for a small book, it also allows you to put the story out for cheap, or sometimes even free as either a way to hook new readers, or maybe just a thank you to already loyal readers.  Here are a couple of my favorite novellas both in electronic and hard copy form.
The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland--For a Little While: A Tor.Com Original
The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland-For a Little While-This is a story about Mallow one of the characters in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making.  It gives you a tiny bit of her history and shows how she became ruler of Fairyland.  It also gives you a bit of the history of the Green Wind which I really liked.  This is a bit of a dark story, not really one I would read to my young nephews, but the amazing words and beautiful imagery that made so many people fall in love with the first book are all present in this great little package.
Countdown (Newsflesh Novella)
Countdown-This handy little novella give you the history behind the zombie uprising in the Newsflesh trilogy. I read this before I started the actual books to see if it was something I wanted to get into, and let me tell you, by the end I was hooked!  This gives a blow by blow account of the events leading up to the Uprising, and introduces us to some characters that play a huge roll in the books.  I would recommend this to anyone who is trying to decide weather to start this series or not...or anybody who has read it and wants to know the specifics of the virus.
The Coelura-This was the first novella I ever remember reading, I was on a Anne McCaffery obsession (one that has never ended I'm happy to say) and I was sad that it was so short.  That being said the author used this short book to build this insanely rich and amazing universe, and set a great story smack into the middle of it.  She eventually wrote a second book in this same universe about 15 years later, Nimisha's Ship which together with the novella are two of my favorite Sci-Fi stories ever.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard (Harry Potter Series)
The Tales of Beedle the Bard-This fun little book helps all of us Potterphiles prolong our utter addiction to the universe that is Harry Potter.  These clever tales which were mentioned in the main books help us enter the wizarding world that much more.  The added commentary by Dumbledore adds a lot of flavor and ties it into the series as a whole very well.  It is not another Harry Potter story, but rather a piece of his world that we can all read.
Errant-Is a novella is part of the Killer Unicorn series. This story is set in the 18th century, much earlier than the modern times the rest of the series is set in.  You can read this without having read the full books, which is a good way to see if you are interested in the series or not.  I like this novella because it drives home the ancientness (that's a word right?) of this unicorn killing business.

Hopefully these have inspired you to go try a new series or author.  These cheap (or free) quick reads do not require a huge investment of time or money, and who knows you may just end up with a new favorite!

What do you think of novellas?  Have you ever started a series or author because of a novella?  Do you have to buy all the accessory books to your favorite series for it to feel complete?