It would be impossible to review this book without comparing it to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “The Phantom Tollbooth,” and, to some extent, t...moreIt would be impossible to review this book without comparing it to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “The Phantom Tollbooth,” and, to some extent, the Roald Dahl canon. For one thing, it is densely whimsical. And for another thing, Catherynne M. Valente is a word magician, bending phrases and flipping sayings and just generally making All The Words line up and do her bidding. In that respect, “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” is a wonder to behold.
But there’s another thing. A not so wonderful thing. And that thing is I think the story suffers because of Valenten’s love affair with words. Look, you know I’m mad about poets in all their incarnations. And Valenten is nothing if not a poet. But I felt kind of bored with the narrative and the charatcers. While the wordsmithing was impressive, it took me an age to finish this thing because I wasn’t invested, wasn’t eager to pick it back up, or reluctant to put it back down. It’s funny: I’ve never not read a Roald Dahl book in one sitting. But I’ve never read “Alice” without dragging it out for weeks and growling at Lewis Carroll along the way about, “Oh, just SAY it already!”
So, you know, keep that in mind if you’re placing any kind of value on this review. (less)
This is one effed up little tall tale, right here. It's tricky because it's kind of predictable, except the one thing that is totally not predictable....moreThis is one effed up little tall tale, right here. It's tricky because it's kind of predictable, except the one thing that is totally not predictable. I gasped out loud when that thing happened, and read the next three pages with my mouth hanging open. (I know, because my sister was sitting beside me and she said, "You gasped out loud and now you're reading with your mouth hanging open.")
I really enjoyed this book. But then, I've always had a soft spot for the village idiot. (less)
I have never been angrier at a book than I am at “Discovery of Witches” and it’s all my fault. Firstly, I got my hopes up way too high about this one on account of ten dozen book critics comparing it to “Harry Potter.” And secondly, I knew it included a vampire love story. I knew it. And I should have adjusted my expectations accordingly — because you can’t have a vampire love story without an afflicting amount of male posturing and patronization.
The heroine, Dr. Diana Bishop, could have been exceptional, but the vampire ruined her life. (Actually, she seemed to like him in her life; maybe he just ruined my life.)
Listen to how awesome she is without the vampire: a) She’s a history scholar who b) lives in England where she c) spends half her life in Oxford’s Bodleian Library (you remember it as the library they use in the “Harry Potter” movies) studying d) ancient alchemy manuscripts. Also, she’s d) a witch who e) hates the dogmatic identity politics of her minority group and so she rebuffs their claim on her to f) spend time doing exciting outdoor activities and g) reading the whole library and h) eating full English breakfasts.
A super smart, super powerful, super accomplished, non-conformist witch who loves bacon, you guys. And as soon as that goddamn vampire comes a-callin’ she loses all sense of agency, and also her mind.
I was totally willing to look past the part where Deborah Harkness wrote herself as the main character. Like you know how every time Robert Langdon looks at his Mickey Mouse watch you want to kick Dan Brown in the shins? It’s like that, but worse because the vampire character gets his own chapters where he swoons and swoons over Diana’s quirks and Diana is obviously Harkness’ fictional version of herself. So it’s pretty much a masturbatory opus when you think about it like that. I was also willing to ignore the way Harkness over-describes everything. Not in a Steig Larsson “and then Lisbeth bought ten Billy’s Pan Pizzas at the Seven Eleven” kind of way, but in the way where she tells every detail of everything every character is wearing and where they purchased the things and how they fit and what it feels like to take them off and put them on and wine tastes, wine tastes, wine tastes for all eternity. (Harkness writes a wine blog, so I get it. But still. Come on.) I was willing to go with it, though. To embrace it, even. But again: The goddamn vampire. And so those mildly annoying things morphed into unforgivably grating things.
This is where I really lost it with “Discovery of Witches.” Page 192. I highlighted all the parts that made me want to explode in a fury supernova. For example: “We were prey and predator once more.” (Guess who is the one doing the attacking and who is the one getting attacked?) And: “With Matthew in bodyguard mode, I didn’t have much choice.” (When a man tells you do to a thing, you do that thing or he gets violent, OK? You don’t have a choice.) And: “I’m letting you go,’ he said, cutting me off. ‘But don’t bolt for the door.’” (He was just being aggressive because it’s what was best for her. He holds her against her will because he cares.)
I can’t keep talking about this; I’m spiraling into a rage blackout again. I just want to say if I ever hear anyone compare Dr. Diana Bishop to Hermione Granger again, I will set something on fire. (less)
Kate DiCamillo has such a magical, lyrical soul. The Magician's Elephant is as good as The Tale of Despereaux, which is astonishing because The Tale o...moreKate DiCamillo has such a magical, lyrical soul. The Magician's Elephant is as good as The Tale of Despereaux, which is astonishing because The Tale of Despereaux is better than every other book in the world. (less)
The GoodReads five-star rating system isn't perfect because some books (like, say, pretty much all Fitzgerald and Salinger) get five stars because I t...moreThe GoodReads five-star rating system isn't perfect because some books (like, say, pretty much all Fitzgerald and Salinger) get five stars because I think they're just freaking brilliant writing; while other books (like, say, Bridget Jones's Diary and the Traveling Pants books) get five stars because I love the characters so much.
Then, of course, there are the Harry Potters and Tales of Despereaux that receive five stars because it's like they retell my whole world: Remember how lost you were when you were younger? This is what you were looking for!
Ash was that last thing for me.
I've always thought fairy tales were history books, always revered the Woods, always been reckless in pursuit of adventure, always wanted to fall in love with a girl. That's this heroine.
Once I really got into Ash, I couldn't get out.
I'm giving it four stars for freshness, four stars for writing, five stars for magic and five stars for speaking to greater truth. Plus, I am giving it five bonus stars for waking up the little kid in me. She doesn't exactly hibernate, but sometimes gets so bored with the adult world that she is forced into a long winter's nap.
I loved how Malinda -- I can call her that; she was my editor once -- writes about the smell of magic. And this:
"Have you ever wanted to be a princess?" Ash challenged her.
"That depends," Kaisa said.
"On whether I would have to marry a prince." (less)
Thanks to Gretchen's review, Amy picked up Fire to read by the pool on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago. She loved it, loved it, so I read it after he...moreThanks to Gretchen's review, Amy picked up Fire to read by the pool on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago. She loved it, loved it, so I read it after her. What followed was a mad dash to the bookstore and then so many sleepless nights as I devoured Graceling and then Bitterblue. Cashore's prose is gorgeous, her world building is astonishing, and her characters -- even the supporting ones -- are remarkable. She's unapologetically feminist, and sexually forward thinking, and she does some super rad stuff with gender. A billion stars. I haven't enjoyed a book series more since Potter.
(P.S. I've decided only to review books I really love. Rereading my own cynicism in every review was starting to depress me.)(less)
This is a pretty unique children's book, both in the cleverly-framed storylines and in the fact that the protagonist is an adult. The fantasy world O'...moreThis is a pretty unique children's book, both in the cleverly-framed storylines and in the fact that the protagonist is an adult. The fantasy world O'Brien creates is rich and textured, and both stories are imagined so well. Thing is, it just felt really dated to me. I know it won the Newberry in 1972 and all, but The Cricket In Times Square is an even older anthropomorphic fantasy and it always feels fresh. (less)