His name is “Teddy” and I have no recollection of getting him, but he has been with me for over 35 years. I can’t say that he anThis is my teddy bear:
His name is “Teddy” and I have no recollection of getting him, but he has been with me for over 35 years. I can’t say that he and I were (are) as close as the Boy and his Rabbit. I have no memories of sleeping with him nor of fervently clutching him when afraid nor of making ersatz bear dens for his comfort but he was always on the periphery of my life. Lurking on top of my dresser, carelessly tossed on the bed or (today) carefully packed away with a few other childhood treasures. And the idea of throwing him away or giving him to the Salvation Army is so fundamentally wrong that my stomach twists in dismay and I know – I know, even though I’m an atheist – that I will spend eternity in Hell if I ever do so.
My friend at work has occasionally recommended this book to me as it’s one of her favorites. This is the same woman who got me the novelization of the movie J.T. for Christmas one year. I watched J.T. in the second grade, and I refuse to read the book because that experience so affected me that I don’t want to relive it.
She also recommended the first Transformers movie.
So you can see that I was wary about The Velveteen Rabbit but I was finally moved to read it by a chance reference in an essay I read in the October 29, 2012 issue The Nation, the following quote:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day….
“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby…. But once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
That observation resonated and I downloaded the eBook from the Project Gutenberg site.
This is a marvelous story and I can easily identify with the Boy (and there’s a happy ending, unlike J.T.), and it’s going on my Christmas list for my youngest niece, who’s six....more
Michael Chabon has written an introduction to a new edition of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is reprinted in the latest issue of the New York Review ofMichael Chabon has written an introduction to a new edition of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is reprinted in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books (June 2011 - you'll need a subscription to read the whole thing), and which prompted a reread.
I will uncritically and unreservedly recommend this book to everyone. It's been my experience that while no singular author or book has ever consciously "blown my mind," many have done so unconsciously, including this one. How can you not love a world where you can only get to the island of Conclusions by jumping or where cars go without saying or where the Mathemagician transports our heroes to the Mountains of Ignorance by carrying the three?
Like Milo, I can easily fall into apathy and I like to think that my various enthusiasms were sparked by his example....more
"This is the bestest book in the whole widest world!!!" - Felix, The Other New York Review of Books
"Two thumbs up! Way up or tThe critics have spoken:
"This is the bestest book in the whole widest world!!!" - Felix, The Other New York Review of Books
"Two thumbs up! Way up or this one!" - Roger Fleabert & Gene Whiskel, At the Libraries
I leave it to the reader of this review to go and find out why the cat world raves about this book, and I'll leave it to Steve's and Ceridwen's reviews to clinch the intention to read this funny, touching and intelligent book.
For my part, I'm going to send this off to my nieces ASAP as soon as I can pry it from the claws of Puck:
For some reason, I've had a hankering to reread these books for a few months. A yen I gave in to this weekend when I checked out a Science Fiction BooFor some reason, I've had a hankering to reread these books for a few months. A yen I gave in to this weekend when I checked out a Science Fiction Book Club omnibus edition of all 5 novels and a collection of short stories (the latter of which, I haven't read).
Having read The Book of Three, I can see where my moral compass may have begun to form. I first read these books in sixth grade as an extracurricular project, and then made a filmstrip of the final book, The High King (yes, a "filmstrip" - for the young'uns out there, think PowerPoint presentation without the laptop :-). The characters are honorable, kind & loyal to their friends, and they fight only when they must.
Even looking at it today with a sadly more jaundiced eye, I enjoy reading it, and am happily plowing through The Black Cauldron, book two....more
The Terrible Troll-Bird is the third book in this year's B-Day present to my niece, Claire (see my reviews of the other two: Supposing and Ounce DiceThe Terrible Troll-Bird is the third book in this year's B-Day present to my niece, Claire (see my reviews of the other two: Supposing and Ounce Dice Trice), the most conventional of the three as it actually tells a story. In this case, the tale of Ola & his sisters, Lina, Sina and Trina.
The story reminds me of Beowulf: A New Verse Translation: The terrible troll-bird (Grendel) is terrorizing the forest & village, and when it attacks Ola, Lina, Sina & Trina's farmhouse, Ola manages to kill it. Everyone in the village and the denizens of the forest celebrate at a great feast (where the troll-bird provides the main course) but then the bird's owners - the trolls Gygra and Jotun (Grendel's mother) - come down from the mountain to take revenge. Fortunately, trolls - as everyone knows - aren't very bright and they're caught out when the sun rises and turn to stone.
The ending also reminded me of the great Norwegian film "Trollhunter" because after turning to stone, the trolls explode. (While we're recommending good Scandinavian films, I'd also include "Rare Exports" and "Dead Snow".)...more
I missed my “Robin McKinley window” by about thirty years. If I had had the good fortune to come across this novel when I was fourteen, I’m sure I wouI missed my “Robin McKinley window” by about thirty years. If I had had the good fortune to come across this novel when I was fourteen, I’m sure I would have sought out more of her work and enjoyed them to the same extent as I enjoyed authors such as Andre Norton or Lloyd Alexander (whom I did have the luck to meet around this time in my life). As it happens, I’m too experienced a reader (and, mayhap, too cynical?) to fully appreciate the spirit in which the book is written. There were too many niggling “off” things for me to immerse myself, and chief among them was the heroine, Harry, who never became sufficiently “real” enough for me to care for her.
But I don’t want to come down on McKinley too harshly or suggest that this isn’t a good book. In fact, I’m including it (and its sequel, The Hero and the Crown) in my nieces’ Xmas care package this year because I think they’d enjoy it. (And, I’m happy to say, I’m enjoying the aforementioned sequel much more than The Blue Sword, the reasons for which I’ll elaborate on in my review of that work when I’m finished.)
Recommended? Yes, though not for middle-aged, curmudgeonly sticks in the mud....more
Ounce Dice Trice is the second in my B-Day trilogy that I mailed to my niece the other day (the first being Supposing, by the same author, the third,Ounce Dice Trice is the second in my B-Day trilogy that I mailed to my niece the other day (the first being Supposing, by the same author, the third, The Terrible Troll-bird).
This book is a romp exploring the magic/fun of words and their power.
Below is a short compilation of some of my favorite words or phrases:
A "consternation of mothers" or a "tribulation of children"
Sounds people & things make:
MRRAAOWL (a more accurate transliteration of a cat's "meow") HARROWOLLOWORRAH (a yawn) KINKLUNK (a car going over a manhole cover)
Names for whales: HAMISH, CHUMLEY
A propos of that: "It is most important to be a good namer, since it falls to all of us at some time or other to name anything from a canary to a castle...."
If someone tells you something you don't believe, look at him steadily and say: FIRKYDOODLE FUDGE.
I'll begin by saying that I enjoyed reading Finnikin of the Rock.
On the island of Skuldenore, the tiny kingdom of Lumatere has been brutally conqueredI'll begin by saying that I enjoyed reading Finnikin of the Rock.
On the island of Skuldenore, the tiny kingdom of Lumatere has been brutally conquered by the usurping cousin of the king, and a subsequent curse has cut it off from the rest of the world, splitting its citizens between those trapped within its borders and the exiles, who eke out meager existences in the surrounding nations. For nine years, Finnikin of the Rock, the son of the Captain of the King's Guard, and his mentor Sir Topher have been wandering among the exile camps, giving aid where they could and trying to convince some nation to make a place for their people. One day they're summoned to the Lagrami cloister in Sendecane where they're tasked to escort the mysterious novice Evanjalin, who claims to be able to lead them to Balthazar, the King's son. What follows is their efforts to return to Lumatere, break the curse and restore their land.
Upon a certain amount of reflection, this book brings to mind Colson Whitehead's Zone One (which I recently read) in that it tells the stories of people who suffer horrors indescribable - murder, rape, terror, etc. - and are forced to make decisions no one should have to - who to sacrifice so all don't die, etc. Finnikin of the Rock, however, celebrates our capacity to retain our ability to feel love and compassion, unlike Mark Spitz and his fellow survivors in Zone One, who have reached a point where they feel they can't affort to care anymore.
While I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to any adult reader, it definitely strains the definition of "young adult." There are themes of rape, murder, vengeance and terrorism that most parents might not want their twelve-year-old reading about. At least not without mom or dad there to discuss things....more
I find myself without a great deal to say about Railsea.
I certainly liked it. China Miéville is one of my favorite authors and I have yet to be disappI find myself without a great deal to say about Railsea.
I certainly liked it. China Miéville is one of my favorite authors and I have yet to be disappointed in anything of his I’ve read. His imagination and talent are on full display – as usual – and it is far more than a simple homage or pastiche of Moby Dick.
Other reviewers have summarized the plot (which is also reasonably well summarized on the dust jacket of my edition) and described the railsea and its denizens so I’m not going to dwell on those aspects of the novel. What I will briefly mention, however, are two episodes that stood out for me, and that are examples of why I like Miéville so much – his ability to surprise me. When I first began reading Un Lun Dun, I feared that the author was “slumming.” Writing a YA fantasy that really wasn’t going to push any boundaries but then he turned everything on its head and delivered a great story.
A similar thing happened with this book. I can’t go into too much detail without entering spoiler territory but both scenes involve choices – the one Sham makes when Caldera Shroake asks him to go with her and Dero as they set out to complete their parents’ quest to find the end of the railsea ((view spoiler)[a bad choice as it turns out (hide spoiler)]), and the one the Medes’ crew makes when faced with confronting Mocker-Jack (“the great white mole”) or rescuing Sham ((view spoiler)[a good choice (hide spoiler)]). If there’s any truth to what Gardner writes in On Moral Fiction*, that fiction is “good … only when it has a clear positive moral effect, presenting valid models for imitation, eternal verities worth keeping in mind, and a benevolent vision of the possible which can inspire and incite human beings toward virtue, toward life affirmation as opposed to destruction or indifference,” then Railsea is “good.”
But don’t let that put you off. Another quality of Railsea is that it’s not preachy nor does it talk down to its ostensibly YA audience – of which, hopefully, my niece will be one as this will be yet another book sent to her for her enjoyment.
* A recent read that’s going to be futzing with my reading enjoyment for years to come, for better or for worse.
** Random observation: The final scene from the book reminds me strongly of that from the film Dark City.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Meh...I've been listening to this on the way to/from work (as is my wont with audiobooks as I can't focus on them outside of that confined environmentMeh...I've been listening to this on the way to/from work (as is my wont with audiobooks as I can't focus on them outside of that confined environment).
While Tim Curry does a good job of reading (though I couldn't stand his Moggett voice), I couldn't get engaged in either characters or story.
SIDEBAR: This is my 3000th GR book though I think there really shouldn't be a celebration until I'm up to the 3000th read book....more
Why We Broke Up is the letter Min (short for “Minerva”) Green writes to Ed (co-captain of Hellman High’s basketball team) Slaterton when their star-crWhy We Broke Up is the letter Min (short for “Minerva”) Green writes to Ed (co-captain of Hellman High’s basketball team) Slaterton when their star-crossed relationship ends as tragically as one might expect. Min reminded me a lot of Handler’s previous angsty teen protagonist Flannery Culp from The Basic Eight, which was the first Handler novel I read and remains my favorite. Both are teen-age girls. Both hang out with friends who desperately try to be insouciant, worldly, cynical observers of life. And underneath both are extraordinarily fragile souls. In Min’s case, her fragility is exposed in the last pages of the letter when she pours out all the rage, pain and terror that lured her into the relationship to begin with:
And the truth is that I’m not, Ed, is what I wanted to tell you. I’m not different. I’m not arty like everyone says who doesn’t know me, I don’t paint, I can’t draw, I play no instrument, I can’t sing, I’m not in plays, I wanted to say, I don’t write poems. I can’t dance except tipsy at dances. I’m not athletic, I’m not a goth or a cheerleader, I’m not treasurer or co-captain. I’m not gay and out and proud, I’m not that kid from Sri Lanka, not a triplet, a prep, a drunk, a genius, a hippie, a Christian, a slut, not even one of those super-Jewish girls with a yarmulke gang wishing everyone a happy Sukkoth. I’m not anything, this is what I realized with to Al crying with my hands dropping the petals but holding this too tight to let go. I like movies, everyone knows I do – I love them – but I will never be in charge of one because my ideas are stupid and wrong in my head. There’s nothing different about that, nothing fascinating, interesting, worth looking at. I have bad hair and stupid eyes. I have a body that’s nothing. I’m too fat and my mouth is idiotic ugly. My clothes are a joke, my jokes are desperate and complicated and nobody else laughs. I talk like a moron, I can’t say one thing to talk to people that makes them like me, I just babble and sputter like a drinking fountain broken. My mother hates me, I can’t please her. My dad never calls and then calls at the wrong time and sends big gifts or nothing, and all of it makes me scowl at him, and he named me Minerva. I talk shit about everybody and then sulk when they don’t call me, my friends fall away like I’ve dropped them out of an airplane, my ex-boyfriend thinks I’m Hitler when he sees me. I scratch at places on my body, I sweat everywhere, my arms, the way I clumsy around dropping things, my average grades and stupid interests, bad breath, pants tight in back, my neck too long or something. I’m sneaky and get caught, I’m snobby and faking it, I agree with liars, I say whatnot and think that’s some clever thing. I have to be watched when I cook so I don’t burn it down. I can’t run four blocks or fold a sweater. I make out like an imbecile, I fool around foolishly, I lost my virginity and couldn’t even do that right, agreeing to it and getting sad and annoying afterward, clinging to a boy everyone knows is a jerk bastard asshole prick, loving him like I’m fucking twelve and learning the whole of life from a smiley magazine. I love like a fool, like a Z-grade off-brand romantic comedy, a loon in too much makeup saying things in an awkward script to a handsome man with his own canceled comedy show. I’m not a romantic, I’m a half-wit. Only stupid people would think I’m smart. I’m not something anyone should know. I’m a lunatic wandering around for scraps, I’m like every single miserable moron I’ve scorned and pretended I didn’t recognize. I’m all of them, every last ugly thing in a bad last-minute costume. I’m not different, not at all, not different from any other speck of a thing. I’m a blemished blemish, a ruined ruin, a stained wreck so failed I can’t see what I used to be. I’m nothing, not a single thing. The only particle I had, the only tiny thing raising me up, is that I was Ed Slaterton’s girlfriend, loved by your for like ten secs, and who cares, so what, and not anymore so how embarrassing for me…. (pp. 335-37)
What makes the relationship more tragic is that Ed isn’t a complete ass. Despite being written entirely from the distraught Min’s point of view, you can see that there are qualities in Ed that she brought out that may have saved it or could at least have made the inevitable split less painful. He seriously tries to enter Min’s world and does appear to feel an exhilarating freedom when he breaks his clique’s conventions when he’s with her. But, unfortunately, he’s a 17-year-old boy (an alpha male among the jocks and popular students) and he doesn’t have the emotional maturity to handle the situation. He panics and winds up doing the worst thing you could possibly do, hurting Min at her most vulnerable point.
This book probably isn’t for everyone. As other reviewers have pointed out, the writing is discursive and stream-of-conscious and Min can come across as superficial and annoying but I enjoyed it (as I do all of Handler’s work), perhaps because I could sympathize with Min. My greatest self-identification, though, came with the character of Al, Min’s boy friend (note the space) who affects indifference but is hopelessly in love with her. (Ah…I do not miss my high school days :-)
Final thoughts: I found it interesting but odd that all – all – of the film references Min makes are to imaginary movies and actors, even though many of these films should exist (especially “Greta in the Wild”).
Maira Kalman’s illustrations are a visual lagniappe to the story but I didn’t find them essential. But I’m not a visual person, which is why I’m a book geek and not a film geek....more
Having decided that The One That Got Away, though good, was for a younger audience than Claire, my soon-to-be six-year-old niece, I settled on SupposiHaving decided that The One That Got Away, though good, was for a younger audience than Claire, my soon-to-be six-year-old niece, I settled on Supposing... as one of the trilogy of books that I wound up mailing to her.
The book is not only about stimulating "unfettered thought" as the GR blurb says but is also an opportunity to discuss morals and the consequences of action. For example, what would be the consequences if you followed through on either of these two suppositions?
Supposing I collected old hair from a barber shop and sent it in parcels to people I didn't like...
Supposing I telephoned people I didn't know in the middle of the night and practiced my horrible sounds over the phone...
In today's hysterically paranoid atmosphere, the least that would happen is getting put on the TSA's no-fly list, and I wouldn't be surprised if your adorable little moppet didn't wind up doing a perp walk to an undisclosed detainment facility. (Can you imagine the late-night, emergency NSA meetings as our "intelligence" community tried to figure out how al Qaida had infiltrated the pre-school set?)
There are also suppositions, less creepy, that can prompt discussions about what's important and what's not, e.g.,
Supposing I had a great house with valuable paintings and furniture and things and I came home one day and it was all blazing and burned down and people came rushing up to me being sorry for me but I just laughed and took off my clothes and threw them into the fire...
And then there's just fun stuff like "What if I were bald?" or "What if I taught my dog to read?"
Overall, I liked the book and - as I am sending it to Claire - I can recommend it to parents everywhere. (Though I suppose I really should wait until my sister gets back to me about that :-)...more
It's always a pleasure seeing an author get better. In our last episode, I gave a less-than-enthusiastic review to The Blue Sword and so was a littleIt's always a pleasure seeing an author get better. In our last episode, I gave a less-than-enthusiastic review to The Blue Sword and so was a little hesitant to begin this book. But there were enough good points about McKinley's writing that I wasn't dreading the experience.
As it turns out, I enjoyed The Hero and the Crown much more than The Blue Sword. The story revolves around Arlbeth's (the king of Damar) daughter, Aerin, whose mother was a woman from the North (in McKinley's world, the North is a land of demons and half-human creatures, and Aerin's lineage makes her suspect in the eyes of the court). Aerin begins as your typical ugly duckling, isolated outcast, and grows into a person confident in herself and her abilities (paralleling the author's growth as a writer?).
For myself, what made Aerin a more compelling and interesting character than The Blue Sword's Harry was the bitterness that McKinley mixed with the sweet. (view spoiler)[Aerin couldn't simply find her prince charming but found herself torn between Tor and Luthe; Agsded wasn't a cipher like Thurra but was Aerin's uncle; Tor becomes king and marries Aerin but Arlbeth dies; etc. (hide spoiler)]The Blue Sword reads too much like a fairy tale, and I never entered into the personal life of Harry to the extent I was able to with Aerin.
This curmudgeonly stick in the mud recommends The Hero and the Crown with more confidence and enthusiasm than The Blue Sword, though both are good.
PS - Can I complain, yet again, about the inadequacy of the rating system? I gave both this book and The Blue Sword three stars but they're very different three stars. If I were comparing these two books alone, Hero would get four stars because it is, IMO, that much better than Sword.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Elizabeth Bunce’s A Curse Dark As Gold is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin myth set in an England-like world on the cusp of an Industrial RevolutionElizabeth Bunce’s A Curse Dark As Gold is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin myth set in an England-like world on the cusp of an Industrial Revolution, and it’s a wonderful book. The story centers round the village of Shearing and the millhouse of Stirwaters where Charlotte and Rosie Miller have been left orphaned by the death of their father. For five generations, Stirwaters has been in the Miller family despite the fact that no son has survived childhood and a curse seems keep the operation from enjoying any lasting success; every year is a struggle to make enough money to keep the mill afloat and provide the work Shearing’s inhabitants depend upon to survive. Now that these young women are left to fend for themselves, peril immediately looms as the modern, industrial weaving practices of the Pinchfields mills threatens to undersell their business. The daughters then learn that their father has taken out a mortgage on the mill that’s coming due. And – if those dangers weren’t enough – someone is sabotaging the mill’s work. Into this situation steps the mysterious figure of “Jack Spinner,” who saves the mill but keeps asking a higher and higher price until he demands a sacrifice from Charlotte that drives her to discover the source of Stillwaters’ curse and finally break it.
Two things make A Curse a four-star read. The first is Bunce’s evocation of the Golden Valley and the village of Shearing, particularly the life of the millhouse. You may learn more about shearing and weaving than you’ll ever use but it makes the story come alive and reinforces you’re acceptance of Charlotte’s (and other’s) devotion to the mill. The second factor is Charlotte Miller. The story is told from her point of view so you come to know and understand her intimately. She’s a proud, stubborn and independent young woman but her heart’s in the right place and everything she does, she does to protect the mill and the people who depend upon it for their livelihoods. Though there are many instances where I wanted to whack her upside the head with one of her cloth bolts because she often acts too prideful, stubbornly and independently, in the end she realizes that she’s not alone and manages to balance those things that she alone must do and those things where she can rely on the support of her family and friends. And she learns when pride has gone too far, as she explains to Rosie:
I pulled her closer. Her hands were cold; she must be as weary as I. “I’ve seen what comes of an unwillingness to forgive, and I’ll not pass that legacy on to William. And nor will you.” (p. 387)
I also enjoyed Bunce’s writing style. Some reviews have characterized it as “too slow” or “boring” but a better descriptive would be “measured”: It builds up a picture of Shearing and the lives of the characters without interfering with the story, and where it needs to move at a trot, it does so. I think many writers could take lessons from the author’s style. (One author who doesn’t but whose writing Bunce’s reminds me of is Jeffrey E. Barlough in his Western Lights series – both are set in England-like worlds of similar eras, and both call up an ambiance of quixotic characters and settings where Faerie and magic lurk at the peripheries of ordinary life.)
Bunce’s also – thankfully – doesn’t strain to make figurative analogies but often succeeds in creating just the right image for you to “see” the scene, e.g.:
That day we had two of Mrs. Hopewell’s pieces stretched out, dove grey satinette and a blue flannel, running along the river like its reflection. (p. 53)
It will be with a good deal of pleasure and enthusiasm that I pass this novel along to my nieces this Xmas, and I’m looking forward to acquiring Bunce’s second novel, Starcrossed, soon....more
I first became aware of Jeanette Winterson from an interview she did with Bill Moyers when her take on the Atlas myth, Weight: The Myth of Atlas and HI first became aware of Jeanette Winterson from an interview she did with Bill Moyers when her take on the Atlas myth, Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles, came out. She and the book sounded intriguing, and I wasn't disappointed in either.
I haven't read a lot of her adult fiction subsequently (Oranges are Not the Only Fruit and her SF outing, The Stone Gods) but I've been impressed by the ideas she wrestles with and by her writing abilities so I was a bit disappointed in Tanglewreck, her initial foray into the young-adult market.
The story is decent enough: Our eleven-year-old heroine, Silver River, has lost her parents and older sister, and now lives alone in the family home of Tanglewreck with an aunt ((view spoiler)[who turns out to be a con-artist hoping to steal Silver's estate (hide spoiler)]) and her mean-spirited rabbit Bigamist. In the world at large, Time appears to be falling apart - Time Tornadoes are ripping apart the fabric of Time and causing fear and panic. None of this impacts directly on Silver until a mysterious stranger, Abel Darkwater, comes by looking for the Timekeeper, and Silver finds herself looking for this missing artifact in a race against Darkwater and a second villain - Regalia Mason, whose company, Quanta, promises to end the temporal disruptions but at a frightening cost.
The story is reasonably inventive and enjoyable, and Winterson manages to weave in a number of points about quantum mechanics, time and space without making things tedious similar to how Norton Juster injects math and linguistics into The Phantom Tollbooth. But here's my primary "problem" with Tanglewreck: It's not as much fun to read as The Phantom Tollbooth or China Mieville's Un Lun Dun, another book I kept thinking about as I read this one. My sense when reading was that Winterson was forcing the "young-adult ambiance"; the prose didn't sound as natural as it does (to me) in her adult fiction.
That said, I still enjoyed Tanglewreck even though it doesn't play to Winterson's strengths, and I'm still looking forward to eventually reading her second YA venture - The Battle of the Sun. And I will be regifting this to my nieces come the Xmas season.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Reread: Sept 2012 There's nothing better than a dose of Norton when in need of a comfort read.
When I was a lad growing up in St. Charles, MO, the librReread: Sept 2012 There's nothing better than a dose of Norton when in need of a comfort read.
When I was a lad growing up in St. Charles, MO, the library we frequented (a converted shop near the freeway exit, long since sacrificed to the country's love affair with shopping malls [sigh]) had two floors. The top floor catered to "adult" literature and I didn't often go there. The basement contained the YA and SF stuff, and it was there that I received my first exposure to the genre that I love to this day. Andre Norton was one of the earliest authors I read. The library had two five-book collections of her work. The first were SF titles - the first two or three "Solar Queen" novels and a few more set in her future history. The second collection were the first five "Witch World" novels - the setting for much of Norton's most inspired and best work.
What makes Norton such a wonderful author - something I only recognize in hindsight but that I'd like to think my adolescent subconscious picked up on - is that she never allows her fantastical settings to obscure what really matters: the people who live in her stories. The story of Simon Tregarth's adventures in the service of Estcarp made a powerful impression on me, and Jaelithe was probably my first literary crush. For a long time, it was Norton and Tolkien by which I measured other authors.
My recommendation below still stands. For decent stories with interesting and admirable characters, you can do far worse. ___________________________________________________________
Andre Norton is probably one of the best authors to introduce young readers to both SF and fantasy. You can't go far wrong with either the Solar Queen or the Witch World.
* For my birthday, I picked up the first seven "Witch World" novels from my local used-book store, which prompted this particular round of rereading....more
Typical Norton. And make no mistake, that's a good thing.
One of the last Patrol vessels of the crumbling Galactic Empire, Starfire, crashes on an unchTypical Norton. And make no mistake, that's a good thing.
One of the last Patrol vessels of the crumbling Galactic Empire, Starfire, crashes on an uncharted planet and the surviving crew (regular Patrolmen and the Rangers who explore new worlds) must cope with surviving on an unfamiliar world and coming to terms with the end of their civilization.
As the straight-forward, old-school, YA SF adventure at which Norton excelled, The Last Planet does a good job of entertaining the reader with a quickly paced story and a cast of interesting, if not overly memorable, characters: Kartr, a Ranger serjeant with powerful-but-untrained psionic powers; Zinga, a Zacathan Ranger; Rolth, another Ranger, a human whose people have adapted to a low-light world; Fylh, an avian Ranger; and the chief "bad guy," Joyd Cummi, a power-mad survivor from an earlier crash.
There's also a strong, salutary message about the stupidity of prejudice. The "African Americans," in this case, are aliens - aka "bemmys" (Bug Eyed Monsters) - who are second-class citizens of the empire. In order to survive, everyone has to and do learn to cooperate and appreciate one another as individuals.
Despite its racially progressive tone, there is a depressing male chauvinist aura. Ms. Norton is usually pretty good about this sort of thing - many of her characters are intelligent, capable women who don't need rescuing all the time (e.g., Jaelithe of the Witch World novels) - but this novel is pretty much a "males only" club. The only woman who gets to say much of anything is a corpswoman in what sounds like an 81st century version of the WACs, and she's immediately relegated to essentially getting all the men coffee.
Yet, despite that misfire, I would recommend this book and Norton in general. I'm not a fan of all the subjects she tackles and if you read too much of her at once, it can become repetitious, but she's a good storyteller, her tales are always uplifting and positive, and she's a good introduction to the SF/Fantasy genre for the 'tween crowd....more
Not much to say here about The Jargoon Pard except on a personal note. The story is a solid, by-the-numbers fantasy quest as Kethan is forced to discoNot much to say here about The Jargoon Pard except on a personal note. The story is a solid, by-the-numbers fantasy quest as Kethan is forced to discover his true heritage. It's set in Norton's Witch World but isn't, IMO, one of the more memorable entries, and would only recommend it to a Norton completist. The characters are not very complex (though Ursilla could have been a really nasty villain if given more room to develop), and the ending stumbles into the deus ex machina snare.
On the personal note: I first read The Jargoon Pard when I was in high school, and vaguely remember being inextricably entranced by it. I also learned two new words from the title alone:
JARGOON - Noun. A colorless to smoky gem variety of zircon. PARD - Noun. A leopard or panther.
The second thing is that I picked up a used copy from my local brick-and-mortar used-book store (God knows how they're surviving but I'm not complaining), and that edition has to have one of the ugliest covers I've ever seen:
So I'm sticking with the cover of the library book I checked out as a callow youth....more
Year of the Unicorn is a typical Norton set up: An outsider is forced to make a journey where she discovers hidden abilities, overcomes threats to lifYear of the Unicorn is a typical Norton set up: An outsider is forced to make a journey where she discovers hidden abilities, overcomes threats to life and personal integrity, and ends up with the promise of a new life.
Unicorn takes us from the Witch World’s original setting in Estcarp/Escore across the seas to High Hallack, inhabited by a fair-haired race of humans who deeply mistrust witchcraft and studiously avoid the sites of magic scattered across their dales. Our hero is Gillan, a young woman who survived shipwreck as an infant and now endures a life immured in Abbey Norstead (it’s not a bad life, but it’s a very limited one). From her physical description – dark haired, fair skinned and thin – readers of Norton’s other Witch World novels will immediately recognize her as one of the Old Race. This means, of course, that she has some measure of Talent and sensitivity to uses of Power.
High Hallack has just thrown back an invasion from Alizon, the kingdom that lies north of Estcarp. But the country suffered greatly and the only way the Dalesmen could defeat their enemies was by allying with the Were Riders of the Wastes. The price was 13 maidens who would become the Riders’ brides. The bridal party passes through Abbey Norstead on its way to the Riders, and though Gillan is not one of the maidens she contrives to take one’s place (with the tacit approval of the nuns, who do not trust her foreignness) and sets out with the party to meet their new husbands.
The Riders have set up a glamor where the girls are attracted to the cloaks of the men best suited to them. Gillian’s senses let her see through the illusion but she’s nevertheless drawn to one particular mantle and so meets Herrel. Like her, Herrel is an outsider amongst the Riders as his mother was a fully human woman and Hyron, his father and leader of the pack, barely acknowledges him. Worse, if anyone else realizes who and what Gillan is, she may very well be killed; the Riders what brides and mothers of future sons, not woman who might rival them in Power.
Gillan’s identity is uncovered eventually; and Halse, the novel’s chief villain and a thoroughly unlikable and vindictive one, puts her soul at risk in an effort to eliminate her threat. (With the willing connivance of the other Riders. While the Riders aren’t corrupted by the Shadow, they are not exemplars of virtue. A fact that makes them one of the more interesting antagonists from a Norton story.)
This is one of the better Witch World novels. For one thing, Gillan is an interesting protagonist and engages the reader’s sympathy. She’s intelligent, resourceful and strong willed. This latter trait is important in Norton’s work. The author always challenges her heroes with threats to their personal integrity – their souls. And the worst thing that anyone in Norton’s moral universe can do is invade someone’s mind and force her to do things against her will. Another plus is that the author manages to create real tension. You know Gillan and Herrel will prevail in the end but you don’t know how far Norton will let Halse go before they do. She can be pretty brutal to her heroes. A third thing I liked about the novel were the Were Riders. As I mentioned above, they’re not evil men but their goals are so far removed from Gillan’s that the two can’t help but clash. Their deceptions anent the brides is inexcusable but they don’t intend to harm the women; they want to keep them pacified and unthreatening.
I’ll wrap up with a recommendation to “read” if Andre Norton is your cup of tea....more
Children of Morrow was a favorite when I was younger. It’s a post-apocalypse YA novel about two mutant children who flee the murderous intentions of tChildren of Morrow was a favorite when I was younger. It’s a post-apocalypse YA novel about two mutant children who flee the murderous intentions of their village’s mayor and his henchman. I reread it about a decade ago and found that it held up rather well. It was thus that when I resolved to read The Dawn Palace (part of my recent fixation with Greek myths – see my reviews of The Iliad (Mitchell trans.), The Odyssey (Fagles trans.), For Her Dark Skin (Everett), Ransom (Malouf) and Medea (Wolf), among others) I was confident that I would like the story.
I’m happy to report that not only did I like the story, I liked it a lot. I thought this was one of the better interpretations of the Jason/Medea legend, and – despite its target audience of older YAs – it can appeal to adults as well.
Hoover wisely – I think – elects to make Medea a 14-year-old girl, and Jason is not many years older. She is the daughter of Asterodeia, the daughter of Helios the sun god, and Aeëtes, an expatriate Corinthian, who is king of Colchis from his marriage to her. The novel opens when Medea is five and sees a vision of her mother departing. Come the morning, she finds the court in mourning because Asterodeia has apparently died during the night. I say “apparently” because the child discovers that the covered body is not her mother’s. Asterodeia has gone back to her father, leaving Aeëtes to rule as regent for Medea (so she thinks). The years pass. Medea’s aunt Circe teaches her about herbs, magic and other knowledge astrally, visiting her in dreams and taking her to a timeless place where they she can study and learn undistracted. This is a time of change, however. The ancient matriarchal dynasties and the goddess-centered religion are being displaced by patriarchs and the male-centered Olympian pantheon. Aeëtes has remarried and plans to put Apsyrtus, the son of that union, on the throne. Medea learns of the betrayal shortly before Colchis is honored by the arrival of Jason and his Argonauts. Hurt, betrayed and feeling lost, Medea falls hard for the charming, unscrupulous and handsome Greek. Subsequently, the story departs from the received version (i.e., Euripides’) of the legend by making Jason solely responsible for killing Apsyrtus and it is he who murders his and Medea’s children. But it doesn’t exonerate Medea. Before she finally realizes his true nature, she does great evil because of her love for the man.
Outside of the author’s take on the myth, there were two things that made this book so enjoyable for me, and those are Hoover’s characterizations of Hercules and Medea. Hercules’ and Medea’s paths cross three times. The first time they meet is near Troy, which Hercules has sacked because Laomedon, its king, had cheated him:
The dark form moved. Living wood creaked and broke. Rocks chinked and sparks flew. Flames licked up and grew bright, and the smell of burning cedar pitch mingled with the salt air. When he raised the flaming fatwood brand, she saw him clearly.
The arm that held the impromptu torch was thicker than her waist. He was nearly seven feet tall and heavily muscled. As a cape, he wore the dried-out, shabby pelt of a huge lion. Its head served as his helmet. His face was framed by the teeth left in the lion’s grotesquely dislocated jaws. His nose had been repeatedly broken; his dark eyes were fever-bright. His own dark hair, the dead beast’s mane, and his red beard seemed all tangled into one bushy mass. The pelt’s forepaws were fastened to his leather breastplate. The hind legs and tail flapped at the back of his bare knees. A belt secured a leather apron at his waist and also held the widest sword she’d ever seen. (pp. 129-30)
He warns her that Jason will betray her just as he betrayed him because they are both children of the gods, and promises to be a friend when that day comes. A promise that greatly disturbs Medea as she realizes he is on the knife-edge of madness and despair.
Their second meeting occurs several years later. She and Jason and their children have found succor in Corinth with Creon, its king. Hercules’ madness “was more evident now. His throat moved as if he were carrying on an angry internal dialogue, obsessed by old injustices” (p. 178). He reiterates his friendship for her and that he’ll help when Jason inevitably abandons her.
The final time they meet, Medea has fled Corinth, finally recognizing Jason for what he is and taking her revenge against him, Creon and Glauce. Hercules has murdered Deianeira, his wife, and his children. He’s holed up in his palace and so sunk into madness that “[h]e sat naked and hunched up, his huge arms hugging his knees so tightly that his muscles bulged and strained. His eyes were wide and unfocused; his jaws clenched, his throat working. As she watched, appalled, he began to rock in that spastic frenzy peculiar to lunatics. Faster and faster he rocked, until his heels were lifting higher with each backward lunge, and he finally tipped over and fell sideways, his head thudding against the roof” (pp. 203-4). She nurses him back to physical and mental health, and finds that – in the end – he can’t protect her and she must find the strength in herself to salvage what she can of her life.
Hoover humanizes the elemental force of nature that is Hercules and makes the reader sympathize with his plight – a man who set out to do good in the world but whose every action turns out horribly wrong.
As with Hercules, so with Medea. Over the course of the novel, Hoover creates a complex, believable and sympathetic character. As I mentioned, she commits evil but she’s also capable of good, and it’s never simply a question of doing the right thing since there’s no act she can do that won’t have maleficent consequences. I don’t have any specific passages that could illustrate my point. It’s a matter of the author’s ability to flesh out Medea’s character throughout the story but it works. Even more so than Hercules, Hoover’s Medea is a fully human person who readers empathize with even if they can’t always condone what she does.
There are two further points I wanted to mention before closing out this review. The first is Hoover’s treatment of gods and magic. There certainly is an element of the supernatural; I’ve already mentioned how Circe visits Medea astrally. But, otherwise, the gods and magic are more noticeable in their absence. Much of Medea’s power comes from greater knowledge of the physical world. For example, she murders Glauce and Creon with a dress and crown seeded with white phosphorus. Her murder of Pelias is accomplished with stage magic and duplicity. And her skill as a physician, not spells, saves lives. I wasn’t sure if this worked when I first read the novel but upon reflection I think it does, for the most part. I personally like the ambiguity of not knowing if the gods exist or to what extent – if they do – that they interfere in human affairs.
The second point is that if there is a weakness in this novel it’s that the author compresses the second half of the story (after Jason and Medea reach Greece), and it feels rushed and incomplete. I would have liked 50-100 pages more devoted to Medea’s life in Greece so that its sudden disruption would have had as much emotional “oomph” as the events of the first part.
That aside, this novel comes highly recommended by yours truly (I’ll be sending a copy to my niece for her birthday), and it makes me intrigued about Hoover’s other work. Children of Morrow had already proved she could be an interesting writer but if her other work matches The Dawn Palace, I’m even more interested in seeking out her stuff....more
An interesting review in the New York Review of Books of Percival Everett’s Assumption and the approach of my niece Claire’s sixth birthday came togetAn interesting review in the New York Review of Books of Percival Everett’s Assumption and the approach of my niece Claire’s sixth birthday came together recently to bring this book to my attention. In the course of compiling an Everett bibliography, I discovered that he had written a children's book, and it worked out that my trusty LA County library had a copy.
So here we are.
The story tells of the travails of three unnamed cowpokes who capture a herd of “ones” but then have to go and track down a “one” that escapes from the corral. This is a story that requires illustration as the text alone doesn’t convey half of the message. Left with the unadorned words, you’d be bored. Combined with Dirk Zimmer’s wonderful artwork, however, Everett’s prose takes on a life that illustrates the wrongness of confining some “one” against their will.
If I had easy access to a decent scanner, I’d scan pages 10 and 12 to show what I mean but I’ll try to describe it in words that will (hopefully) peak your interest & get you to acquire a copy yourself. On page 10, the text says: “Then they saw one. And another and a big one. It was a herd.” By themselves, neutral in context. The illustration shows a dozen+ “ones” walking peacefully along, unaware of the cowboys lurking behind the rocks on page 11. There’s a couple holding hands, some kids playing. Most every “one” is smiling (except for a disgruntled “one” but I think he’s jealous of the lovers). Turn the page and it’s a far different scene. Again, the prose is neutral – “They rode into the herd and threw hoolies over one, then another, until they had captured many” – it’s the picture that gives them context. The cowpokes have struck, and chaos reigns. The lovers cling to each other in terror, the children (one having been lassoed) are vainly fleeing up a hill, and the disgruntled “one” is being hog-tied.
Not every illustration is one of terror. One of my favorites is on page 22. The cowboys are climbing up a mountainside and one of them is struggling with his mount, who’s decidedly reluctant to continue. And beyond the initial conceit about the use of “one,” Everett has other amusing plays on words. My favorite among these occurs when the cowboys are scaling the mountain. They’re using a convenient set of stairs but come to a gap so one is sent down to find a stair to close it: “He went to a hole in the ground and dropped down the loop of his lariat. He pulled up a stair. It was a stairwell.” (Perhaps it doesn’t rise to the level of wordplay in The Phantom Tollbooth but I liked it.)
I wound up not getting a copy for my niece. Not because I didn’t like the book but because Claire is too old for it now. If I had discovered The One That Got Away a couple or three years ago, a copy would be winging its way to Buffalo. So – for what it’s worth coming from a 44-year-old divorcé with no children – I would recommend this book, primarily to the 2-5-year-old crowd but also to any “one” who likes well illustrated children’s literature....more
One doesn’t read Andre Norton to explore the deeper questions of existence; one reads her because they want to read a solidly written adventure, fast-One doesn’t read Andre Norton to explore the deeper questions of existence; one reads her because they want to read a solidly written adventure, fast-paced and satisfying. With Norton, this is usually guaranteed. At least with her earlier stuff. Some of the collaborations she embarked on before her death leave much to be desired. Fortunately, with these stories, we have Norton at her best.
Warlock is actually an omnibus edition of three novels: Storm Over Warlock, Ordeal in Otherwhere and Forerunner Foray. The first two are natural siblings, one following immediately after the other in time and both having many of the same characters. Except for the passing fact that one of the characters in the third is the son of the protagonists from the first two books, Forerunner Foray really has no relationship to the other two. Perhaps it was a publisher’s decision.
All three are classic Norton, however: The heroes are young outcasts who must discover who they are and make a place for themselves in the world, animals play a significant role in that quest, and there’s the usual exploration of the use and misuse of psychic powers.
I like Norton. She was one of my favorite authors when I was young. She can be formulaic and, like all authors, she can pen the occasional “stinker” but she was a deeper writer than one might suspect. Without beating her audience about the head, all of her heroes are self-reliant, often young, men and women who succeed through loyalty to their friends, using their heads, and following the better impulses to be found in the human animal.
I don’t know that I would recommend Norton to older adults who haven’t already read her but I would recommend these novels to fans of Norton and to the child or young adult interested in speculative fiction but unsure where to begin (actually, before these, I would recommend Witch World, the Solar Queen series or The Zero Stone but in their absence, the present tomes aren’t bad places to begin)....more
This is the second book in Nancy Springer's series about Sherlock Holmes' younger sister Enola. She's in London and trying to stay below the radar ofThis is the second book in Nancy Springer's series about Sherlock Holmes' younger sister Enola. She's in London and trying to stay below the radar of her brothers while still doing good, and the stresses of maintaining several identities is beginning to grind Enola down.
She stumbles upon an apparent elopement of an upper caste daughter and only just manages to keep out of her brother Sherlock's hands while solving the mystery.
As with the first book in the series (The Case of the Missing Marquess), this one is a fast paced, enjoyable read. The Mesmerism plot is hackneyed but - upon reflection - is reminiscent of Conan Doyle's style of writing in some of his Sherlock stories.
Highly recommended both to adults and/or that adult looking to find something exciting for his/her "rugrat" to read....more
Always on the look out for things to stock my nieces' bookshelves with and being a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I was very pleased to come across WealhtheoAlways on the look out for things to stock my nieces' bookshelves with and being a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I was very pleased to come across Wealhtheow Wylfing's reviews of this series on my update feed, especially as it's Hailey's birthday this month (May).
Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock, and for the past 14 years has been living with her mother on the family's estate, Ferndell Hall. When Mum disappears on Enola's birthday, the girl comes under the direct guardianship of Mycroft. A state of affairs that quickly grows intolerable since Mycroft's (and Sherlock's) idea of a proper lady includes corsets and boarding schools. Fortunately, Enola is a worthy fruit of the tree that produced her brothers, and her mother has left her clues that give her the resources to strike out on her own, escaping to London, where she quickly becomes involved in the case of a missing heir. All the while, she's also trying to find out what happened to her mother.
This is a very fun, very fast read with a likable character in Enola and is definitely recommended for the 10-14 crowd, but also worth a look if your a fan of the Great Detective....more
This is a very accessible, fast-paced and enjoyable fable about a young man and his journey toward wisdom. Along the way he's helped by the usual castThis is a very accessible, fast-paced and enjoyable fable about a young man and his journey toward wisdom. Along the way he's helped by the usual cast of characters in myths of this sort: His true love, a mischievous sidekick, a beloved teacher, and others whose roles are to illustrate the best and worst qualities in human nature.
Alexander's prose is lucid and unpretentious and perfect for the tween crowd. If you're a parent with a talent for voices, the varied dramatis personae easily lend themselves to a bravura performance before bedtime.
I'm going to pass this along to my sister and her daughters, which should be recommendation enough....more